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The history of the human belief in the paranormal provides a vital lens for analyzing the evolution of cultures around the world. The current problem in this field of study is the lack of attention paid by scientists, historians, and biblical scholars to the presence and influence of ghosts throughout history. The reality, however, is that every culture across the world believes in some form of the paranormal. In America alone, three out of four people will admit to having at least one paranormal belief. In analyzing the available literature on ghosts and the history of the Spiritualist movement from historians, scientists, psychologists, writers, and anthropologists, this study has discovered that belief in the paranormal tends to align with popular trends or beliefs in culture. Considering the impact that the paranormal has had on mainstream culture over the last 500 years, this research intends to display that ignoring a topic that seems silly at first can in fact be harmful to increasing our understanding of human agency, cultural change, and the capabilities of the human mind and body.
The Familiar Dead: Spiritualism and Ghosts in American Culture by Megan Weiss is a fascinating read for anyone who has an interest in the supernatural. And, let’s face it who isn’t. The author takes a pragmatic approach to this subject and details some interesting facts about what Spiritualism was and what it hoped to achieve. Author, Megan Weiss has certainly done her homework and the result makes a very interesting read.
Going back to the 19th Century, Weiss takes a detailed look into Spiritualism and the general public’s interest in ghosts. Spiritualism was a movement which was generated by the advent of such devices such as the Ouija board and the holding of seances. This was a time when people began to explore the ideas of their being a contactable afterlife and the existence of ghosts that were accessible by ordinary people on demand (unlike the ones who jumped out at people and haunted houses).
Spiritualists believed that the dead were able to contact the living by spelling out messages on a board. We’ve all seen Ouija boards on television shows or movies, and perhaps some people have actually used one. I remember my mother having one and bringing it out at dinner parties in the 1970s for fun.
However, in Weiss’ no-nonsense approach we discover how Spiritualism and the practice of seances helped improve women’s status in the community and their finances, as well. It was believed women being the fairer sex and lacking reason were more vulnerable to the influences of spirits and better able to receive messages from the dead. We also learn, among other things, how séances brought people of mixed social classes together, and how the very act of touching hands and knees caused controversy and alarm at a time when social norms dictated that men and women should never show affection in public.
I really enjoyed this book. Like many people today, I am curious about the afterlife and whether it is possible to contact those who have passed over. However, I never realized before what kind of impact Spiritualism had on American culture, and how much it influenced the very way we think about these topics today. If you are interested in this subject, you’ll learn a lot from this well-researched and enthralling book, The Familiar Dead: Spiritualism and Ghosts in American Culture by Megan Weiss – I certainly did.
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