Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Friday, June 2, 2017

Séances, Spirits & Mediums - Victorians & Spiritualism



A Victorian Seance - 1872
A Victorian seance - 1872
Mediums and spirits and séances… oh, my! The image of proper Victorians gathered for séances to reach out to another realm has always intrigued me. Many Victorians were drawn to the notion that the living could communicate with those who’d passed beyond to another realm. Prominent Victorians such as Mary Todd Lincoln, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Queen Victoria herself displayed a willingness to believe that spirits could send messages to those they’d left behind with the help of mediums who acted as intermediaries between the living and the dead. Séances were conducted in studios and parlors, all in the hope of establishing contact with the dead.

During the nineteenth century, high child mortality rates and relatively short life expectancies made grief a prominent part of Victorian life. The Victorians employed elaborate mourning rituals, including black mourning dress, post-mortem photography, and the wearing of memento mori—jewelry that incorporated hair from the deceased. With grief such a part of life, it isn’t surprising to me that some Victorians sought contact with loved ones they’d lost. Sadly, in some cases, unscrupulous frauds exploited the despair of those mourning the dead.

When A Lady Dares coverWhile some mediums may have genuinely believed in their abilities to reach out to the deceased, others were charlatans who played on the grief of the bereaved for monetary gain. A phony medium might also exert undue influence over someone in the throes of grief. This prospect intrigued me. What if a medium had exerted influence upon someone in a position of power—someone like the Queen? And what if those who knew too much had to be silenced?

What would happen if an undercover agent came too close to the conspiracy?

These questions provided inspiration for When A Lady Dares, the latest in my Victorian historical romance series, Her Majesty’s Most Secret Service. In When A Lady Dares, covert agent Sophie Atherton goes undercover as an assistant to a phony medium, a man who’s involved in more than simply extorting money from his clients. Swept into a treacherous scheme, she must unite with a notorious rogue with his own score to settle in order to survive the sinister plot.

While researching the story, I came upon a wealth of fascinating information about Victorians and their interest in communicating with spirits. Did you know:

The Fox Sisters 
The Fox Sisters
  ~ The Spiritualist movement began in America. In 1848, sisters Leah, Kate and Margaret Fox claimed to  communicate with a spirit in their home using knocks on wood. Over the years, the sisters established themselves as mediums, including conducting public demonstrations and séances.

  ~ Forty years later (1888), Margaret Fox published a confession in the New York World that the rappings supposedly used by the dead to communicate during their séances had been produced by the sisters themselves using their fingers and feet.

  ~ Fake mediums employed tricks such as spirit photography, table rapping, and levitating objects with concealed wires. Mediums often claimed to have a relationship with a spirit guide in their communication with the spirit world.

  ~ Mediums frequently used accomplices to achieve the illusion of contact with the dead.

~ Queen Victoria was said to have had an interest in spiritualism, participating in séances before her husband’s death, and later, communicating with Prince Albert through séances.

~ It is said that a teenager, Robert James Lees, conveyed a message from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria and later conducted seances for the Queen at Windsor Castle.

~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a proponent of spiritualism. In 1924, he published The History of Spiritualism, one of more than a dozen books he wrote on the subject.


To learn more about this topic:


All historical photographs are in the public domain.

About The Author:

Award-winning author Tara Kingston writes historical romance laced with intrigue, danger, and adventures of the heart. A Southern belle-out-of-water in a quaint Pennsylvania town, she lives her own love story with her real-life hero in a cozy Victorian. The mother of two sons, Tara's a former librarian whose love of books is evident in her popping-at-the-seams bookcases. It goes without saying that Tara's husband is thankful for the invention of digital books, thereby eliminating the need for yet another set of shelves. When she's not writing, reading, or burning dinner, Tara enjoys cycling, hiking, and cheering on her favorite football team. 


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