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John D. Moodie, a little-known researcher from the 1850s - Part One

By:John Moodie
Date: Thu,03 Apr 2014
Submitter:Richard Rowley

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One of the first psychical researchers in the early 1850s was the sheriff for 23 years of Hasting County , near Belleville, South-Eastern Ontario, Canada, where the Fox family lived before moving to the Rochester area in New York.

John Dunbar was a Scotsman from the Orkneys. and he and his English wife Susanna emigrated to Canada in 1832. Susanna is well-known as the author of "Roughing it in the Bush." With the coming of Modern American Spiritualism, John Moodie employed his critical legal mind to the phenomena being produced, and his investigations were recorded in a voluminous correspondence, some of which luckily remains in the archives of various libraries. Many of his letters were offered to the Spiritual Telegraph in New York, which were published during that journal's short existence in the 1850s. For readers' interest, I am reproducing some of those articles here. We can compare the research methods back then with the more modern techniques of Gary Schwartz and the present-day research societies.

Here, to start the series is an interesting historical review of the Spiritualist movement which John Moodie presented in 1859.

by John Dunbar Moodie.
The Spiritual Telegraph, Broadway, New York. 29 January, 1859.

There was a time when Spiritualism, with its accompanying miracles, was received by all Christians, as well all Jews, with unswerving faith. This faith might be blind and unreasoning, but still it was faith. In an age when science had made but little progress, the minds of men were only receptive to what appealed to their senses, particularly to the senses of hearing and seeing.

All men could meet on this plane – the learned and the unlearned. The simple-minded fishermen, the first followers of our blessed Lord, were just as capable of judging of what is called ‘miracle,’ as the learned doctors of the law. They saw works done, which, as they believed, far transcended human power, and with undoubting faith they trusted to the evidence of their senses. The learned, on the contrary, in their pride of knowledge, doubted the very best evidence which can ever be furnished to the human race. For if we doubt the evidence of our senses, where can we obtain better ? No amount of proof will convince one shoes mind is not by nature receptive of reason. What was understood as ‘miracle,’ appeared alike to all minds. If their senses did not deceive them, or if they did not think that they did, all would be compelled to believe.

I would here say a few words on the subject of ’miracles.’ The meaning of the word miracle is simply, a wonderful work. It would be well if it still could be regarded in this plain and more intelligible sense. The blind love of the wonderful, so natural to men led them to consider a miracle as something supernatural, instead of looking on it as a higher development of natural powers. Supernatural is only another word for impossible. Miracle may be more correctly defined as ‘a wonderful work of nature, under certain conditions.’ Were you to give a piece of steel to one who never heard of magnetism, and tell him that it would attract or draw to itself another piece of steel, he would very naturally say, ‘The thing is impossible.’ But take a magnet, and magnetize a piece of steel, he would then find that by virtue of the power communicated to it, it would attract it. This is a very simple illustration, but it is not the worse on that account. Things are very simple and very obvious when they are known, and it would be well if the unbelievers in Spiritualism would only think fo the magnet when, contrary to the evidence of thousands, they say it is impossible for a table to rise from the floor without being touched by human hands. This also is a miracle, in its correct sense, but it is not supernatural. All that is required is a good medium for the physical manifestations, and other favorable conditions, and the thing will be done.

There is a tendency in scientific men to think that because they know a great deal more than others, they know every thing. In a truly philosophic mind, like that of Newton, (for his deep insight into the eternal laws of nature, as well as his profound veneration of its great Author, taught him how very little he did know of all that was yet to be learned by man,) this shallow and presumptuous idea could never be entertained. But all scientific men are not Newtons. His was one of the great original minds, and the mind of your great Franklin was another of the same stamp of originality. Such men cut out the work for their successors in the same line of discovery, and each succeeding philosopher, with less originality of mind, walks in the footsteps of his master, and almost worships him as a god, as if nothing yet remained to be discovered. Their ideas become stereotyped, and they become bigots to science. Need we be surprised that the learned and scientific at the commencement of the Christian era should have in general been the last to embrace its doctrines ? After performing unheard of miracles, Christ said to his Apostles, ‘He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than those shall he do, because I go to my Father.’ – (John xiii.12.) And the New Testament tells us what works or miracles the Apostles did perform. But was the power of working miracles confined to his Apostles ? Certainly not; for in St. Mark, ch.xvi., Christ says, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.’… ‘And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils, they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.’

Now, these ancient miracles being admitted by all Christians, as well as by Christian ‘Spiritualists,’ the question naturally arises, when did these miracles cease ? All ‘Protestant’ teachers will say, ‘with the lives of the first disciples.’ But how do they know this ? The early history of the Christian Church (for it was not then divided into Roman Catholic and Protestant, &c.) tells us of numerous miracles wrought by saints and martyrs. The ‘Protestants’ may call these ‘pretended miracles,’ or ‘priestly fabrications,’ but what right have they to do so ? Can they disprove them ? They may try to throw the onus of proving, the ‘onus probandi,’ on the Catholic Church, but that will not answer their purpose – for have not the Roman Catholics their histories to appeal to respecting these early miracles, as we have our history to appeal to respecting the miracles of the Apostles and their first disciples. ‘But,’ say they, ‘our miracles are recorded in the writings of “inspired writers.” Here, again, they beg the question. Those whom they call ‘inspired’ writers, or historians, could only record such miracles as were wrought before or during their own lifetime. After their death, if any miracles were wrought, they could only be recorded by those whom the Protestants would denominate ‘uninspired’ historians. Again, supposing them to have been ‘uninspired,’ why should they be considered as untruthful historians ? According to this theory, all historians would have to be inspired, in order to be believed. And what, then, will become of all our profane historians, in whose veracity we have trusted for ages ? Verily, it seems to me, that in getting rid of much superstition by what is called the Reformation, we have lost much of the ’Spirituality’ of the Christian religion. In this respect the Roman Catholics, whom we reproach for their superstition, are far superior to us, because they have retained much more of the faith they derived from the Apostolic ages. Once diverge from the true path, and we stray farther and farther from our starting point. From the time of the Reformation this loss of spirituality has been progressive in the wrong direction, until in the natural course of our retrogression, we would no doubt, have ended in infidelity, had not reason and philosophy come to our aid, and taught us that there is a God.

As the Reformation overdid its work, by blotting out much of the faith and spirituality of the first fathers of the Christian Church, along with the superstitions and external ceremonies of their immediate successors, a new Reformation is sternly demanded by the men of the present age, who dare to think for themselves. The belief in spiritual influence has been cherished by men in all ages, and in every form of religion. This ennobling faith is inborn in our hearts, and grows with our growth when left to itself, and though it may be smothered for a time by materialistic ideas, it will some time give proofs that it still survives. It is instinctive, and the clergy know full well how vain are all their endeavors to suppress the popular belief in spiritual intercourse. The ‘ghosts’ and ‘haunted houses’ of the present day are still to be recognized as the traditional Spiritualism of a former age, still cherished by the peasantry of Europe, and localized from father to son around certain old castles and domiciles, to which they adhere with a tenacity that defies the inroads of modern science and skepticism. The more educated classes, and the men of science, may sneer at the vulgar credulity of the people, but can they utterly destroy their superstitions without destroying ultimately the belief in the immortality of the soul, of which spiritual appearances are the very best evidence which we possess ?

In all ages, down to Protestantism, spiritual power and influence have been exhibited in one or more localities, in order to keep alive this faith in a spiritual world for the soul after it has parted company with the body. But a new and accursed superstition took possession of the minds of men, which raged for a time like a devouring flame, carefully fanned by malignant and narrow-minded priests, who had long ceased to be fitting mediums for spiritual communications by their grasping selfishness and intractable prejudices. I allude to the real or pretended belief in ‘witchcraft.’ When we compare some of the accounts of witchcraft with the modern Spiritualism of our own day, we can hardly help admitting the striking similarity of the manifestations of Spirit-power, but the minds of men were still unprepared for the reception of their spiritual guests, and THEY despaired of finding a resting-place on earth. No doubt many attempts had been made by ‘Spirits’ to hold converse with men, but the accounts of their manifestations have been lost through the general incredulity of the higher classes of society, and many more of them have never been recorded for the same reason.

In the year 1716, the family of Mr. Samuel Wesley, in the parsonage-house of Epworth, in Lincolnshire, England, were disturbed with extraordinary noises, which were deemed supernatural by all who heard them. These noises continued for many years, and bore so exact a resemblance to the recent spiritual manifestations ( one hundred and thirty-two years later) that there can be no doubt of the identity of their origin, but, strange to say, though there was evident ‘INTELLIGENCE’ connected with these ‘raps’ and other sounds, no one thought of the alphabet as a means of communicating with the Spirits. In this instance, however, the conditions being otherwise favorable, it was fortunate that the witnesses to the manifestations were persons of the highest character for intelligence and integrity. Still most men at the time, and ever since, altogether disbelieved their statements, and even considered some of the family as insane.

Then in 1762 came the ‘Cock Lane Ghost,’ the facts connected with which Dr. Johnson, who was possessed of great candor and independence of mind, openly acknowledged to rest on evidence to which he could not withhold his assent. The manifestations in this case were again exactly similar to those witnessed by the Wesley family forty years before. The supposed actors in the manifestations were not indeed burned for witchcraft, as at a somewhat earlier period they would certainly have been, but they were only punished by placing Parsons, the chief offender, in the pillory three times in one month, and then to be imprisoned for two years, his wife Elizabeth to be imprisoned one year, and Mary Fraser, who acted only as interpreter between the ’ghost’ and those who examined her, was sentenced to Bridewell [prison] for six months, and to be there kept at hard labor. I need not enlarge on the subject of the ‘Cock Lane Ghost’ (the particulars of which ‘supposed’ imposture are fully given in the SPIRITUAL TELEGRAPH of June 5, 1858).

In 1743, that great, holy and learned man, Emanuel Swedenborg, received his first communications from the Spirit world, which continued for nearly thirty years, up to the day of his death. It is not my intention to say much of this very extraordinary man. I would merely observe that what has been written of him rests on precisely the same evidence as all other similar histories of so-called supernatural intelligence. The remarkable general agreement of the intelligence from the Spirit world received through Swednborg, with the spiritual communications received through various mediums of the present day who have never seen his writings, or heard anything about them, deserves especial notice.

Something was still wanting to prepare the unbelieving minds of men for the reception of Spiritualism, and this was the great discovery of Mesmer, who first made his doctrines known to the world in 1766, hardly one year after the discharge of Parsons from the King’s Bench Prison. We can all remember the ridicule with which mesmerism was formerly treated. The general admission of its most prominent facts and phenomena by all possessing any degree of intelligence, has formed a most important link in the chain of evidence by which common-place minds are generally brought o trace the influence of mind upon mind, and mind upon matter. Mesmerism, with its farther development, clairvoyance, merges so imperceptibly into Spiritualism, that it is impossible to determine the exact boundary lines between them.

About forty-five or forty-six years later, the Seeress of Prevorst, Frau Frederica Hauffe, made her appearance in Germany. An account of her trances was published in 1829, the year of her death. [See Podmore, “Mediums of the Nineteenth Century,” 1:99-105.] She exhibited many of the same manifestations that we now witness almost everywhere in North America. She formed an intermediate link between the magnetized subject of 1766 and the ‘Spirit rappers’ of 1848.The science of Mesmerism, or animal magnetism, as it is more properly called, led directly to the investigation of all the mental phenomena, while phrenology, if unattended with any remarkable PRACTICAL results in the knowledge of individual character, greatly aided inquiring minds in the arrangement of their ideas in the classification of the diverse mental operations or physical propensities. The science of “Spiritualism” is but the natural outgrowth of animal magnetism, but the first effect of animal magnetism was to direct the attention of speculative and benevolent minds to the cure of disease. In 1820, Prince Hohenlohe, having been struck with the cures performed by the prayers of Martin Michel, a peasant of Baden, was induced to adopt similar means, and became famous throughout Europe for the cures he performed. This benevolent man has been represented as the dupe of his credulity, and at length relinquished the practice of his gratuitous “healing mediumship.’ Still the facts remain to prove that such a power still exists.

I might be here tempted to go into the philosophy of healing by the ‘laying on of hands,’ but I will merely observe that in most of the cures performed by our blessed Lord and greatest of all “Healing Mediums,’ FAITH was an essential ingredient. I believe it to be the same still. Jesus said to the blind man, ‘Receive thy sight ! thy faith hath saved thee.’ The faith of the blind man was great, and the faith of the ‘great medium’ was boundless, for he knew all that was required for healing. Prince Hohenlohe possesses great benevolence and faith, but he wanted firmness, and allowed himself to be influenced by the fear of ridicule, which ultimately destroyed his usefulness. Had the ‘Spirit Rappings,’ through the mediumship of the Fox girls, in 1848, occurred in any other country than the United States, they would have excited but little attention. In Germany the way was prepared by the Seeress of Prevorst, and in France by Angelique Cottin, an ‘electric girl,’ born in Normandy about 1834. An account of magnetic phenomena and the mysterious movement of objects in her presence was published by Dr Tanchou in Paris 1846. See Podmore, 1:41-2. Her manifestations seem to have been merely of a physical character.

Numerous instances of spiritual appearances and of ‘Spirit Rappings’ no doubt occurred in various localities in all ages, but in the earlier ages they were looked upon by the ignorant as supernatural, but now, therefore, disbelieved by the learned, and soon forgotten, or the unfortunate mediums were persecuted as witches. After witchcraft ceased to be believed by the learned, unfortunately the belief in the possibility of Spirit communion ceased also, though in our church services we do profess to believe ‘in the communion of saints.’ This expression is indeed an ancient monument of what our simple-hearted auditors did believe, but we, without becoming much wiser, have in a great measure smothered up this faith. A very little observation and attention to the progress of science generally, and of animal magnetism and Spiritualism in particular, will show very clearly the anxious desire of the Spirits to hold communion with men in their rudimental conditions. Receptivity alone was wanting to enable them to gain their object. The power of the priest’s prejudices, and hereditary conventionalism and conservatism was in England as strong as ribbed iron. Enjoying as free a government as any in the world and liberty of conscience in perfection, the mass of the people allow their minds to be enslaved by the influence of the aristocracy and the Church. In Germany, with less general freedom, the people were allowed the most unrestricted freedom of thought on religious and speculative subjects, and therefore the first buds of Spiritualism began to germinate in Germany quietly and unostentatiously. Were it possible, therefore, to represent the two hemispheres in the same pictures, in common fairness, I think, you should have spared a ray or two of light to fall on our ‘Faderland’ in your ingenious engraving on the first page of the Spiritual Telegraph.

In Britain we claim little more that reflected rays of Spiritualism, our condition was not very receptive one, from various causes, on spiritual subjects. No country in the world could compare with the United States in this respect. The absence of conservatism and established churches have left their people free from such unprogressive influences, and they freely use the reason which God has given them. If they often abuse this reason and form erroneous opinions, they cannot cast the exclusive blame on their priestly advisers. When, therefore, the ‘Spirit Rappings’ through the Fox girls in 1848 became known, the minds of the people, or off a large portion of them, were in a peculiarly receptive condition. They had freely indulged in speculations on religious subjects, trusting to their own reason, until, as might naturally be expected from the absence that proof which was necessary fully to satisfy reasoning minds, a very large proportion of the people had become extremely skeptical on the subject of Divine revelation; and, strange as it seems, many had ceased to believe in the immortality of the soul. These, however, are natural results of freedom of thought in a free country; it is, in fact, a step in advance, though at first sight it appears to be a retrograde movement. Men doubt, or disbelieve, in order that they may investigate for themselves, with the aid of their own natural reason; and human reason, which is our only guide as to what we should believe, never fails to bring us to the truth at last. In the meanwhile, we are distracted with doubts and fears, for we are but men, and are ready to grasp at anything which promises to enlighten our darkness. The advent of the Spirit rappings and communications through the Fox girls at Hydesville, near Rochester, was therefore hailed with boundless curiosity and joy by the first believers, and from that time there has been a succession of manifestations of Spirit-power and intelligence, becoming more and more wonderful as curiosity began to flag, until no rational person who has carefully investigated the subject, can doubt the reality of Spirit communion.

So far, the mere fact of the Spirits of the deceased being able to hold converse with men in this world seems to be established beyond a doubt. There is no sound reason for the objection that these communications come from our own minds, or the minds of those present, for it has been shown over and over again that facts are communicated which are entirely unknown to any one present. We can not reasonably expect to be able to communicate with none but good and truthful Spirits. Some communications are true, and others false, but this by no means affects the GENERAL facts of Spirit communion. The communications received by certain mediums, or by certain ‘circles,’ are generally reliable, and those received by others, false or unreliable. It has been observed for years that mediums and circles naturally attract Spirits of a similar character to their own, as to intelligence and moral feeling. The same takes place in this world. Spirits good or bad, intelligent or ignorant, are drawn toward each other by sympathy. This is universal law of Nature. Men who have not studied this subject are prone to judge Spiritualism not by reason, but by their own unfounded or ignorant prejudices; they fancy the Spirits of the deceased know everything , not reflecting that such boundless knowledge would produce a universal equality, and would thus destroy individuality and the hope of future progression in future holiness and intelligence, for which we have good authority from several texts of Scripture.

The question still remains, and it is a very important one, ‘Why do we receive so many false communications ?’ I will endeavour to illustrate this part of the subject as well as I can, premising that it is extremely difficult to account for everything quite satisfactorily in the infant states of this science. If good and bad Spirits are alike permitted to communicate with men, the former retaining much of the individual character they bore on earth, there is little difficulty about eh matter; the good Spirits will tell the truth, and the bad Spirits will often tell what is false. But I will take another view of the subject in order to understand the motives of so many apparently uselessly false communications, we should endeavor to fancy ourselves in the particular position of the Spirits in relation to men in this world. Now let us suppose ourselves as a highly-developed Spirit desiring to impress an ignorant and illiterate man with some great truth, iis it not obvious that being unreceptive from want of cultivation, his mind would be unapproachable to such a Spirit ?

A Spirit of an inferior order would be required in such a case - one who with a great deal of ignorance, and even erroneous views on important subjects, might still communicate some thoughts to this unreceptive mortal which he could comprehend, and thus gradually expand his mind, until it became receptive to a higher order of intelligence. The Holy Scriptures clearly show that it must have been so. The whole tone of the Old Testament, compared with the New Testament, shows the complete barbarism of the Jewish nation. The Jews could understand the cruel justice of ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;’ and we need not wonder that they committed acts of cold-blooded and vindictive barbarity quite parallel with the detestable acts of a Nena Sahib’ of our own times. [Nena Sahib was leader of the Sepoy Mutiny, and could be compared with Bin Laden in our times]. It is blasphemy to suppose that a forgiving and merciful God ever commanded such acts of merciless cruelty as are related in the Old Testament. The Prophets, like the people, were THEN unreceptive of what in a more advanced age was called Christian morality. Mankind had greatly advanced in knowledge and morality; the soil was prepared for the blessed seed, and Christ appeared, filled with the Holy Spirit, as soon as they had become sufficiently receptive to appreciate a purer and more Godlike religion. It is said by John the Baptist of Jesus: ‘For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit BY MEASURE unto him.’ [John iii.34.] This clearly implies that all the Prophets before Jesus had been gifted with the Spirit of God in only a LIMITED DEGREE, and that as ‘mediums,’ they were not entirely to be relied upon; and probably, like modern mediums, often unconsciously allowed their own thoughts and opinions to mingle with the spiritual communications they received. It may thus readily be conceived that bad or undeveloped Spirits may often be used by the higher Spirits to hold converse with men who are unbelievers, and it is not improbable that they often personate great Spirits, or the Spirits of those who were great on earth, in order to flatter the pride or vanity of of the recipients of their communications. Of course there is no reason why the Spirits of the mighty dead may not communicate with the great or little people of this world, but really ‘Franklin,’ ‘Washington,’ ‘Swedenborg.’ ‘Lord Bacon,’ &c., must be kept pretty busy in answering all the calls that have been made on them of late, to say nothing of having often to be in two or three places at the same time – which is, certainly, a little too much even for a Spirit. [Note: This last remark of Moodie’s is erroneous. Many more recent examples of spirit communication have shown a spirit may make appearances through several different mediums, in different locations, simultaneously. Less than a decade ago, John Edward in a public meeting in New York brought through the deceased member of one family at the same time that this same spirit appeared for another member of the same family attending a meeting with a different medium in Boston. As another example, Dr. Peebles has recently been channelled by several different mediums in different locations. Richard R.]

I am afraid, Mr. Editor, there is too much of a leveling spirit among your republican mediums and investigators, and I would therefore, seriously entreat them not to bother these great Spirits so often, but allow them to rest on their laurels, until each investigator of Spiritualism can be regularly introduced by some mutual friend.

These observations have been extended to such a length that I must conclude by wished you and all my Spiritual friends in New York a happy New Year.

J.W. Dunbar Moodie

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