Joseph McCabe Lets Us See the Crap Underneath the Spiritualist Religion

Is Spiritualism Based on Fraud? : The Evidence Given by Sir. A.C. Doyle and Others Drastically Explained – Joseph McCabe (1920)

            (EDIT - For those not aware, the Spiritualist religion was one that began in 1844 in middle america, when two young sisters fooled their family into thinking ghosts were making noises in their home.  Their older sister decided to make money off of this and spread the lies that the younger sisters could communicate with the dead and that the dead replied back.  Before that time, most people in the United States held the idea that "spirits" were more like after images of past lives, and not actually dead souls actively coming to hang out with us.  Within 20 years there were over a million adherents to this new fraud, and the "ghosts" developed more skills.  No longer were they content to "rap" or make knocking noises, but instead they moved items, played ghostly instruments, and eventually actually "appeared" as ectoplasmic ghosts. (the use of cheesecloth and phosphorus was widespread, not to mention that seances "had to" be held in near or total darkness. Believers excused all the trickery and fraudulent crap, usually by stating that true mediums had to cheat sometimes because the "skeptic" had scared off the actual spirits... PATHETIC.)


              Joseph McCabe has been one of my intellectual heroes since I discovered his amazing book, The Story of ReligiousControversy.  His deeply rational and analytical mind stripped away everything the Roman Catholic Church indoctrinated him with as a Priest, and having left the church, he proceeded to prodigiously write books, pamphlets, and essays on the whole sordid history of the Roman Catholic Church, science, free-thought, and in this particular book, the ideas and claims made by the Spiritualist religion that began in the United States in the 1840’s when a trio of sisters flim-flammed everyone around them into believing that the noises they made when they cracked their toe-knuckles were actually “rapports” from the spirit world.  Between that time, and the date that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (he of Sherlock Holmes fame) and Joseph McCabe debated Spiritualism on stage, the “religion” had grown to include over a million adherents in the USA alone, each of them convinced that the dead’s “spirit” could be called upon to manifest itself, and communicate, when a “gifted” medium used his/her powers to call them forth.

            The occasion that led to this book was a very public debate between Joseph McCabe, speaking for the rationalists, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the doctor and author who gave the world Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and the idea of the innately rational mind being utilized to solve otherwise baffling crimes.  Holmes, and A.C. Doyle by extension, have always been important figures in my life, so when I found out as a young man that this seemingly strict rationalist was duped by terribly faked fairy pictures, and the séance fraternity’s long-running cons, excusing endless examples of fraud and outright criminality right until his death, I was a bit distraught.  It was not until I read up on the later lives of many scientists and people of reason that I began to see the pattern.  These rational people, as they get older and older, find comfort in the thoughtless void that is religious worship and especially, paranormal spiritualism.  Even Isaac Newton found himself frustrated by his late attempts to create truly scientific alchemy. 

            Joseph McCabe does a great job of dividing this book into various sections, each devoted to explicit examples and proof of the inherent fraud and ill-intent behind those who seek to dupe bereaved and emotionally troubled people.  He covers the initial phenomena, raps, noises, and voices, and then goes on to cover apparitions (most of them were pieces of cloth soaked in phosphorus and then waved about in a dark room), magic writing, clairvoyance, and all the other methods used by these con-artists to fool the sitter into thinking they had experienced true contact with the dead spirits. 

The lengths that these crooks did and do go to in order to fleece the suckers is VAST. Even back in 1910, there already existed companies whose secret catalogues would allow a crook to order “magic” typewriters that would type by themselves, musical instruments that would play themselves, and items of clothing and hair pieces that could be used to conceal whatever the supposed spiritualist wanted to.  The same companies that made tricks for working magicians supplied and continue to supply these fortune tellers and mystics with the tools of their corrupt trade.  As described in another book I reviewed which discusses the lies of the fortune teller business, each of these “mediums” would hoard information and newspaper clippings, sharing these with each other from city to city and state to state, allowing these mediums to seemingly grab knowledge about their sitters out of thin air.  It is all a very calculated confidence game, and they have been working out the kinks for 180 years now.  With today’s internet and connected networks, these bastards have it even easier.  (To read a more modern account of the tricks and lies these criminals use, check out The Psychic Mafia )

Whereas, back in 1900, a medium would cold-read you for a few minutes, and ask you to come back in a week, “when the spirit guides are more ready to talk,” (allowing the medium and their cronies a chance to do research on the sitter’s life, family, business, etc.) these days they can do the exact same research on a potential sucker in 15 minutes online.  Of course, the sitter is always astounded that the medium could know such information!  The scary thing is that debunkers have constantly proven these “psychics” and “mediums” to be wholesale frauds.  Many of them have gone to jail after being proven fraudulent, only to return to their same fame afterwards, suckering bereaved people and stealing their money.  Believers do not want to hear the truth.  They just want to hear what makes their thoughts seem like the truth.  Self-delusion is ugly.

I highly recommend this book, as it not only provides amazing information, but it also lists various other cool resource books on this topic.  I bet most of those are out of print, but I just love finding new books to track down.  I wonder if Mr. Joseph McCabe would be surprised to know I am reading his books 100 years later?

(This book can be read for free here: Project Gutenberg )

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