A Long History
Why Were Americans Interested in the Supernatural?
The Supernatural World Offers Hope to Those in Doubt
Many, Victorian Americans, anxious about surviving on in some form after their physical demise, looked to the supernatural world to validate their beliefs in an afterlife. Minot Savage was one of these individuals. “[He] explained his decades-long spiritualist activities as tentative. He wrote that deciding that spiritualism was true would…give one a conviction of immortality, previously a matter of unstable faith” (1). Edward R. Randall’s story is representative of the ways in which a belief in the otherworldly could mitigate the fear of dying. He grew up during the latter part of the 19th century; in his work, The Dead Have Never Died, published in 1917, he admitted that he had been both an agnostic and afraid of dying before he met Emily French. Ms. French, a medium, convinced him that the spirit world existed and allowed him to speak with the departed via her agency. These séances erased his doubts about the afterlife (2). He admits that he wrote the book in order to “…[take] from the human heart the awful fear of death. No subject in the world is so important as this, and none is less understood” (3). He reiterates this theme several times in his book—constantly seeking to reassure those in doubt about the survival of their souls (4). Many enthusiasts from this period, both scientists and laypeople, believed that if they could prove that the supernatural world existed, they could do much more than simply comfort Americans worried about dying. These individuals thought their research could reassure those questioning their purpose for living. Armed with a certainty of survival after death, Americans could rest assured that their earthly existence was not frivolous; if nothing else, it served as a way period on the path to immortality.
ghost, supernatural, Spiritualism, antebellum,