Pocket Manual for Talking to the Dead | Culture


Engraving of a "talking table" in a spiritualistic ritual of the French weekly 'L'Illustration', published in May 1853 and preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire de Strasbourg.
Engraving of a “talking table” in a spiritualistic ritual from the French weekly ‘L’Illustration’, published in May 1853 and kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire de Strasbourg.THE COUNTRY

“Put one hand on the top of the tripod, evade the spirit, and when one foot rises, it is the occasion to direct the questions.” A hit supposedly meant yes; two, no, and from there a long list of touches on the table that could be translated into letters that even distinguished accents. For Jotino and Ademar – pseudonyms of the author or authors – it was the way to communicate with the afterlife, if one agreed to abandon all hints of scientific rationality. It was embodied in Light and truth of spiritualism, a book published in Cádiz in March 1857, one of the first of a fashion that swept through Spain in the 19th century and even slipped as a matter of debate in the Cortes in 1873.

The 49-page booklet is exhibits this month in the Provincial Archive of Cádiz as an outstanding document, which it reached decades after being banned by the Civil Government. Sensing what would happen, its author or authors dedicated “more pages to say what they are not than what they are”, highlights the specialist of the archive who has studied it, José Ramón Barroso. And despite claiming to be followers of early Christianity, the publication was banned and the copies withdrawn for exposing “doctrines contrary to the Catholic religion.”

Cover of the spiritualism manual 'Light and truth of spiritualism' (1857) kept in the Provincial Archive of Cádiz
Cover of the spiritualism manual ‘Light and truth of spiritualism’ (1857) kept in the Provincial Archive of Cádiz

“Regardless of the issue, the document shows that Cádiz continued to be a port of entry for many ideas and fashions that came through the sea,” says Barroso. That same year 1857 of its publication, the French Allan Kardec publishes The book of spirits, “Considered the Bible of the spiritualist,” says the archivist.

Europe caught a fever from alleged contacts with the afterlife that emerged in the United States. “It is when the telegraph and the morse began to be known. Fashion runs like gunpowder ”, abounds Barroso. Spiritist societies, home and without centralized organization, proliferate in Gibraltar, Andalusia, Levante, Catalonia and Madrid. They promise to communicate with the dead through tripods that move with telegraphic inspiration blows or on “talking tables” on which the participants intertwine their hands, at a time when medical advances raise life expectancy, the concept changes. death and the idea of ​​mourning in families arises. Beyond mere hoax and deception, which filled theaters, fashion finds a place in the “alternative currents to the official religiosity and social secularization of the moment”, emphasizes José Carlos Ferrera, professor in the Department of Contemporary History at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

Table of equivalence of blows and words from the spiritism manual 'Light and truth of spiritualism' (1857) kept in the Provincial Archive of Cádiz
Table of equivalence of blows and words from the spiritism manual ‘Light and truth of spiritualism’ (1857) kept in the Provincial Archive of Cádiz

Ferrera, who has investigated the currents of utopian thought in the 19th century, recalls that, not infrequently, spiritism found its place in progressive movements such as socialism, republicanism and even feminism. “It is the personal liberation of middle-class women,” explains this historian about a fashion in which the medium Amalia Domingo Soler or The Light of the Future, a specialized publication written only by female editors.

Spanish spiritism reached the peak of its popularity in 1888, with the celebration in Barcelona of the first International Spiritist Congress. Years earlier, in 1873, five deputies supporters of the movement brought to the Cortes an amendment to the education bill to include the doctrine as a subject of compulsory education. There was no debate due to the military coup that ended the First Republic.

With the turn of the century, the spirit fever fell as fast as it had previously risen. He was cooled by fraud scandals and the division between the more theoretical currents, connected to progressive principles, and those eager to earn money with those tables in which the deceased grandmother was invoked the same as Socrates.


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