Messages From Beyond
The Spiritualist movement had its beginnings in the United States in the late 1840s and within a few years had spread to Australia. With its seances, mediums, trances, 'magnetisers', table-tilting and other mysterious psychic phenomena, it attracted media frenzy and public furore, but also many deeply serious converts—often highly intelligent and talented people who rejected orthodox religion in favour of scientific rationalism, but were still vitally concerned with moral debates. One of them was the young Alfred Deakin, later to become Prime Minister.
Spiritualists sought 'rational, discoverable answers' to life's mysteries. They sought to 'prove' empirically the continued existence of the human personality after death, while maintaining—somewhat paradoxically—that the movement was a genuine religion. In Messages from Beyond , however, Al Gabay shows that for most believers the seance was not a 'scientific' enterprise but a religious and highly ritualised event.
In this fascinating history, Gabay explores the origins of the Spiritualist movement and relates its rise and fall to the wider intellectual and religious currents in colonial Australian society. He argues that the atmosphere of Freethought and Secularism in colonial Melbourne, as well as the passionate debates of the time on the authority of the Bible and Evolution, were fundamental to the success of the movement, and that it was a cultural product of its time.