The Hymnology of Spiritualism

W. G. Haskell, “The Hymnology of Spiritualism,” Religio-Philosophical Journal, July 28, 1888:2.

In the churches, the singing of religious or rather of theological hymns is a consequential part of the service.  It is called “the praise of God.”  The words of these “sacred” hymns or songs are for the most part consistent with the systems of theology accepted by those who use them.  “Simply to thy cross I cling;” “Jesus Only;” “Saved by the blood of the Lamb;” “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” and scores of others equally familiar, are pertinent illustrations of this fact.  Some of the tunes to which such hymns are set are singularly beautiful, and are known in every household in the land, where, in not a few instances, the words of the hymns are unknown.  The churches are financially able to employ the very ablest composers, and to pay them handsomely for their work.

Now the singing of hymns or songs is of no less consequence to spiritual gatherings than to Methodist or Baptist meetings.  Our people may not—indeed do not—find it necessary to “praise God” by flatteries or to conciliate him by petitions, however beautifully and poetically worded.  But experience has taught us that music, and particularly singing, is conducive to those conditions of harmony which make more easy, or certainly less difficult than without it, the access of the disembodied spirits to those remaining in the flesh.  And so the spiritual circle as invariably begins, or its little breaks are filled in, with singing, as do the Orthodox prayer-meetings.

But it has been my experience, and that of many who have expressed themselves to me, that a quite large proportion of the hymns so used by our people are by no means consistent with the philosophy of Spiritualism, or with the experience of those who have passed from the earth-life, upon even such matters as have the consensus, so to speak, of spirits.  Our hymns or songs, as found in our collections, are quite largely those of the churches, with perhaps, here and there the elimination of a manifestly objectionable word, but often deeply tinctured with sentiments which plainly imply the positions of orthodoxy.  I know how I feel when I listen to them.  I am a dear lover of music, and especially so of vocal music; but when such hymns are sung by our people, in their circles or public assemblages, it is often with a feeling not conducive to harmony, because of my mental protest against the sentiments they utter.  I am very sure that spirits usually tell us in their communications, that the current and popular religious systems are found by them to be not true.  Spirit existence is not the thing, as to place or condition and occupation, which the churches teach.  I have never even heard of a spirit who has affirmed that he or she has seen “the great white throne, and Him that sitteth thereon.”  In short, there is general repudiation of those doctrines which are the staple of sermons and prayers and hymns.  How then shall that which is repulsive to me to-day, because my thought is largely in accord with what most well informed spirits assert, become attractive to me to-morrow, if perchance I have then put off the mortal and put on the immortal?  And how shall a circle expect to harmonize its sitters with the invisibles who draw near, by the expression, though made never so musically, of sentiments in which the said invisibles can not concur?

To the music of these hymns, or many of them, no exception can be taken.  Melodies are good, and harmonies all that could be desired.  It is not infrequently the case that the music is first composed, and then handed over to the verse-maker, to be furnished with words which he deems appropriate.  And we may be reasonably certain that he will deem appropriate something which his employers desire, or which will give him a god reputation as a hymnist among those whose good graces he courts.

There is no lack of material from which to compile a collection of hymns that would be every way suitable to spiritual gatherings.  Some of the finest, the most truly spiritual sentiments ever put into verse, are to be found in the published works of the world’s acknowledged poets, not a few of whom have themselves been in hearty sympathy with the essential things in Spiritualism.  Such are some of Whittier’s, Tennyson’s, Longfellow’s, Pope’s “Universal Prayer,” etc., already set in metrical composition, to the music of charming hymns.  Many of our people through their own organism, and many of our mediums as agents or scribes for some in spirit-life, have written exquisite gems of poesy, and many others could and would, without doubt, give us other fine bits of verse, adapted to existing and popular tunes.  Out of such available material, it would not be difficult for a competent compiler to make up a collection of fifty or more such hymns, and for some of our publishers to issue them without music, in neat, compact, pocket-sized books, to be sold at a low price, convenient or our people to take along with them to lectures, camp-meetings and circles, or to furnish he songs of a family about its own fireside.

There may be such a collection now in existence.  If there is, I have not seen it; and I would suggest to its publisher a moderate amount of advertising, that our people may know of it, and where to get it.  But if not, is it not a matter for some properly qualified party to make ready?

Philadelphia, Pa.


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