The awareness of ‘spirit’ has been around since time began – discarnate beings that people believed affected the living for good or for ill, their intermediates being the shaman or witch doctor. The ancient Chinese, Greek and Egyptian civilisations all had oracles to which they could turn, as well as their gods who were often inspired by their environment.

What we now think of as Spiritualism probably originated with the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg in the eighteenth century, where a structure of the spirit world was set out in which there was no single Heaven nor Hell and where communication with spirits was thought legitimate. This brought direct conflict with the orthodox Church, of course. But a rebellion was under way, especially in the ‘Burned Over’ district of upstate New York in the USA: many here believed in communication with angels and rejected teachings such as unbaptised children being ‘condemned to Hell’. Andrew Jackson Davis synthesised many of the new ideas in his 1847 book, The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind, the foundation of modern spiritual thinking.

A year later, the Fox sisters became a sensation with their ‘rapping’ séances, supported by Quaker friends. But the real appeal of the new movement was its individualism and it was embraced by free-thinkers, dismayed by the Church’s lack of support for women’s rights and the abolition of slavery. Meetings were even held in the White House, attended by Abraham Lincoln.

By the turn of the century, there were more than eight million followers in the US and Europe – a social phenomenon as much as a new religion. Groups of people gathered together informally in homes, led by lay men or women who would offer evidence of life after death. Many prominent people became converts too, such as scientists William Crookes and Alfred Wallace, the journalist William Stead and of course Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, one of the early members of the Ghost Club along with Charles Dickens. By the late nineteen-twenties in the UK there were about a quarter of a million practising Spiritualists and two thousand spiritual societies, the latter offering ‘platform’ mediumship and development circles.

spiritualismDuring my own childhood in the forties and early fifties, my mother took me to churches and to mass meetings. As I compare those days with today, it is plain to see that the increasing speed of life has had a huge impact on how spiritual beliefs are practised and presented. My mother would tell me about the circle that she belonged to where there would be trumpets flying around the room, table knocks and upturning and even people emerging from ectoplasm that flowed from the nose or mouth of the medium. She spoke of transfiguration and messages from angels, spirit photographs and levitation.

These years were a golden age of Spiritualism, perhaps largely because nearly everyone had lost friends and loved ones during the war. People old and young were killed at home during air raids, as well as those actively engaged in hostilities, so many people came to the churches and circles searching for comfort, hoping to receive messages and the knowledge that those they had lost were still alive ‘in spirit’. (Naturally there was fraud too, so in 1951 it was made illegal to offer spiritual mediumship for money; this was only repealed in 2008.)

But who even hears the word ectoplasm nowadays? Today, churches are not filled with congregations and many exist with only a few people in attendance. One significant reason, of course, is that we have enjoyed seventy years of relative peace. But life is also so much faster in many ways. Those who do attend circles or are in some fashion trying to encourage spiritual gifts do not have the time or inclination to spend hours in meditation or development to the point of producing ectoplasm and other such manifestations. Our society wants ‘answers now’ and fast results, so mediums have changed their approach to meet the expectations of their audiences. Speed of contact and delivery is now the aim of the practising Spiritualist medium.

Still, it cannot be denied that despite a solid core, support for Spiritualism, along with much orthodox religious practice too, is not what it used to be. ‘New Age’ thinking has emerged. Of course, people are more than ever open-minded and curious about the paranormal, especially prediction, and there is a growing recognition that science does not have all the answers despite wonderful advances in technology and medicine. But perhaps the biggest reason for the decline is, ironically, the very same one that brought Spiritualism millions of followers a century and a half ago – our desire for individualism and freedom of thought.

sandySANDY PHILLIPS ~ meet the author of The Narrow Doorway(ISBN 978-1-907203-98-5 – Sandy has written and painted for as long as she can remember, and along the way has also been an actor and teacher. Seeing the spirit world has gone hand in hand with everything she has done. She has had three major ambitions in life. One was to have a piece of art work exhibited at the Royal Academy and the second was to write a book. With The Narrow Doorway she has now achieved these two. The third ambition is to be closer to a spiritual life. “I am a positive person whose cup is always half full,” she says. “I was born in London when the bombs were falling and played among the ruins after the war. There was just me and my mother living in furnished rooms all over north London.” Sandy has always been drawn to the arts, from painting to writing, dance, drama and music, and has read books voraciously especially the poets Keats, Rossetti and Wordsworth. “Their words were like music to me, changing tone and pace with bright patches and dark places.” She has had her own poems accepted in anthologies and was once short-listed in an essay competition. She writes with a definite aim and ideas about presentation: “A writer must think in a fairly logical way, at least for themselves, as to where they are starting. Is it a linear structure or set under headings of different areas? Maybe a writer starts in the present and works back to a point. Creativity comes with a dream or day-dream. It may come from the people around me. It sort of floats in on a thought and you catch it before it disappears. It comes by thinking back on an event or projecting your mind to what might be, by observing and finding what your reaction is to that observation.” However, she says, the process is certainly not relaxing!

the narrow doorwayTHE BOOK The Narrow Doorway is the story of an extraordinary life that began at the start of World War II. The spiritual things that happened to Sandy, the animals and people from other times that she saw, were as far as she was aware happening to everyone. It was all part of living an ordinary life. As a child, she accompanied her mother to spiritual meetings but was not really aware of what it was all about. This all changed as she grew, with increasingly frequent psychic experiences and even the intrusion into her life of ‘fearsome dark entities’, causing her to block her natural mediumship for years. Here, for the first time, Sandy tells the story of an amazing life in which this world may have changed beyond recognition but the spirit world speaks to us with an unerring message: we are not alone and we never die.