Interest in psychic phenomenon rises and falls at different times. Sometimes, it seems to accompany periods of uncertainty and rapid change — which describes pretty much my entire lifetime… LOL…
The late 1960s/1970s of my childhood were definitely an extreme woo, woo period for spirituality of all stripes. My best friend, Wendy, and I snuck into a lecture about Edgar Cayce (an American psychic 1877 to 1945) when we were way too young to understand half of what was going on. I remember hearing about reincarnation at that lecture. It was probably the first time I’d heard that word and I was wise enough not to discuss it at home with my skeptical parents.
I’m sure I’m not the only kid who played with an Ouija board at a sleep over party or participated in a séance. My friend Timmy, who was the first gay kid to come out in our school, insisted that we try to connect with the spirit of Judy Garland one summer night at our friend Buff’s house. To me, she was just a movie star — The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, A Star is Born — but to him, she was the quintessential lost soul, someone he admired and adored. I don’t remember any evidence of a psychic connection, but I do remember some wicked mosquito bites and moths enjoying our candle.
Years later, as a history student, I became interested in the rise of utopian communities based on specific spiritual precepts and, often, with communal life styles. There were a lot of them in the U.S. Many rose and fell quickly. The celibacy of the Shakers sort of doomed them when the “supply” of orphans grew smaller in the early 20th century. The utopian Oneida community, with communal property and “complex” (aka open) marriages and other practices the general public feared, dissolved and mutated into a tableware company before the 20th century.
A few years ago I became very curious about the psychics of that period (mid 19th to early 20th century). There were a lot of them. Some were traveling entertainers and others were scholars seeking genuine insights into the spiritual realm. William James, the psychologist/philosopher brother of the novelist Henry James, devoted many years to a serious investigation of mysticism. This put him in contact with many of the fraudulent psychics bilking believers out of their hard earned money.
My favorite frauds have got to be the Fox sisters. Kate and Maggie were renowned for their ability to connect with the spirit world through a knocking sound. Spirits spelled out messages by rapping on a table and the girls “spoke” to the dearly departed. It was a horrible sham that preyed people at their lowest moments. Margaret eventually owned up to the truth.
I think of them whenever I hear a knock, knock joke.
Knock, knock… Is there a spirit there?