Spiritualism was an interesting movement that appeared in the 19th century. While the belief in spirits and their ability to communicate with the living is much older and can be traced back to the ancient times and Homer’s Odyssey, the modern movement was different in being a semi-religion. There is a great difference between the acceptance of the ghosts as an existing phenomenon and the much more complex system that originated in the 1800s. The origin of spiritualism could and should be traced back to the Fox sisters, who in 1848 claimed that they contacted the spirit of a dead peddler. This remarkable statement was followed by accounts of many witnesses who, after watching a séance, attested that they had seen a communication with spirits. The late 40s of the 19th century was a time of change in the way people were living. It was then that many more people lost their connection to their ancestors. Graves of forefathers were a long way from their new homes. It was in such surroundings, that a new and fast growing movement begun to be recognised. Some prophesised then, that it was the end of an old world and a new dawn for a mankind was coming.
But how was it possible that people believed in ghosts? 19th century was an age of science. Biology and physics dominated, especially over later decades of the century. Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and others were writing about the power of knowledge, where new animals and machines were discovered, or created through science. In a way because of such views, some were of an opinion, that it was the age of a crisis of the faith. This was correct in some way, but at the same time emerging of much more critical thinking toward religion and more scientific approach to life, led also to the crisis of evidence. Mediums had many witnesses for their actions. Therefore they had many proofs of their abilities. Ghosts were observed, heard and felt. How then people living in times, where science was about proof and evidence, could not believe in spiritualism?
This way of thinking, together with much greater mobility of people in the Northern America, made spiritualism very popular there. In the 50s of the 19th century almost 10% of the population was more or less followers of the movement and more than 30% believed that spirits could communicate with the living. Mobility of the society contributed to the search for contact with the past, because of people lacked their roots, as in family past. For them, spirits were the only thing that remained stable, to which they could return, as their home was many miles away. But this was not the only rationale behind the popularity of the séances. For many, they gave answers to the uncertainty of the afterlife. It was the 19th century, with great advancement of sciences, but people still wanted to have a proof of their life after death and here the séance delivered it. Especially as at that time wars were seen as much more brutal. People thought that there were more deaths in them, than in previous conflicts.
Nevertheless, we need to remember about another important factor: pleasure. Attending a séance was seen, as similar to attending the theatre. Many mediums made great spectacles with sounds and moving objects. It gave an audience a great thrill and fun. The elites went to smaller séances where everyone was sited around the table and poorer groups of the society went to the large halls where a medium was doing the same, but on a scene: communicating with spirits.
Spiritualism should not be seen as an occultism or its branch. It was a movement that actually rejected all such traditions. It was based on the objective science, as mediums regularly volunteered to be tested by researchers and the séances themselves, while highly theatrical, were mostly set in much more scientific, or in some situations religious concepts, than mystical. The spiritualism was connected both with the social progress (most abolitionist leaders in the USA were at least sympathisers of the movement), but also it was all meant for the scientific progress. The spirit communication was compared to the telegraph: something that was a miracle in the past, now it was a common thing. In the opinion of spiritualists, the same would apply to the spirit communication in the future. In their opinion they were accused by modern scientists not because they were wrong, but because the scientists as a whole did not accept the spiritualism as a sensible movement yet, but will do in future. Nevertheless, many men of science accepted their claims during the height of popularity of the movement.
Also, sometimes when caught, the medium and its defenders claimed that while in some situation it cheated, the rest of its achievements were true. The explanation for tricks was that people always expected a successful séance and not only the medium could not always make it, but sometimes also they could loose the ability to talk with the spirits completely. In this situation the cheats and tricks were the only ways for them to remain on the medium market.
The phenomenon of spiritualism fascinated writers, moviemakers and could be used with great effects in the RPG. The concept of this booklet is to give the information about spiritualism and major figures of the movement. It is designed to be used with the OpenD6 rule system (in the variation used in D6 Adventure) and while it is not a full blown game, it can be used as a basis for a campaign/session set in the late 19th century. Also, the material presented here with some tweaking can be used in any game system out there.
This small booklet explains the main concepts of spiritualism, its origins and some of the most famous spiritualists out there. The booklet is designed to be used with OpenD6 (the rule variant presented in D6 Adventure*).
To be bought here.
*D6 Adventure is published by West End Games and available here.
Character sheet from the booklet (beta version) is available here: kartapostaci.