It's human nature to want to be assured that there is life after death...
A séance is a meeting of people who are gathered with the intention
of trying to communicate with spirits of people who have died. While there have
always been those who claim to communicate with spirits and angels, the real
heyday of the séance began in the mid-1800s with the Spiritualist movement,
which is generally believed to have begun in a small farmhouse in upstate New
York with a pair of young sisters, Margaret and Kate Fox. The two girls lived
in a house that was said to be haunted. After months of hearing disturbances
late at night, young Kate Fox one night challenged the ghostly spirit to do
as she did, and clapped her hands together. She was immediately answered by
the exact same number of rapping sounds from the ghostly visitor. The girls
quickly established a method of communication, asking the "ghost"
questions and receiving answers as a series of knocks.
From that beginning, the Fox sisters built a career as trance mediums that
spanned decades and launched an entire movement. The séance grew out
of that movement. The word literally means 'seating' in French, and is used
to refer to meetings. Since the mid 1800s, it has been used specifically to
refer to meetings at which the participants intend to communicate with the spirits
of the dead. Séances became popular with the rise of both Spiritualism
and Science as people demanded 'proof' that life after death existed. While
there have been many charlatans who preyed on the desire of the living to know
that life after death is a reality, there have also been many mediums who were
never exposed as frauds, despite years of attempts to unmask them.
Séances appeal to the theatrical in people. A typical séance
is held in a darkened room, with carefully chosen trappings - a cloth-covered
table, candles, perhaps even a crystal ball to serve as a focus for the medium.
There is often an experienced medium present - a person who has spoken with
spirits or who allows them to use her body to communicate with those present.
The spirit may manifest by tapping on the table or walls, by tipping the table
or by speaking through the medium or through some other means entirely. In many
cases, the medium or group of people may even use a Ouija board or other device
to communicate with the spirits on the other side.
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