The Man with the Branded Hand Rejects the Spiritual Knockings

Jonathan Walker, “Spiritual Knockings,” The Liberator, April 11, 1851.

Seeing the Liberator is occasionally graced with articles on spiritual manifestations or mysterious rappings, expressive of different opinions, it may not be improper to inquire as to the probable benefit of those wonderful communications from the spirits of the departed.

Has there yet been anything accomplished, set forth, or made manifest, having a tendency to benefit mankind, other than to excite wonder and curiosity, and feast the imagination of those who possess a large organ or marvellousness? The public press has been, for a long time, diffusing abroad, in all directions and forms, the so-called phenomena, or spiritual revelations. And yet I cannot learn that any great principle has been demonstrated or advanced, existing evils reduced, or the cause of humanity has received any new impetus by those wonderful displays of moving household furniture, spiritual rappings or knockings, from Western New York to Eastern Massachusetts.

But, without attempting to criticise the different branches of the mysterious displays, under different presiding individuals or mediums, in different sections of the country, I wish simply to inquire, whether the exhibition, as described in a recent Liberator over the signatures of George E. Haskell and half a dozen others, Jan. 22d, 1851, which took place in the ‘back parlor’ of La Roy Sunderland, is true, or can it be believed by persons of sound mind and medium intellect, that after our bodies and spirits are disunited, the latter is to be engaged or employed in so unimportant a manner as rapping on, hoisting up, or canting over tables in certain people’s ‘back parlors,’ hiding bells, and then spelling out, through the medium of alphabetical rappings, ‘Find the bell! &c. &c.

I am under the impression that we are composed of that kind of material, connected with this earth now, on which is stamped the eternal or positive principle of progress, and look forward to the change which terminates the present state with delightful anticipations of a higher state of existence in the future, if we exist at all. But if I am to be transformed into a rapping instrument, to lurk about ‘back parlors,’ to which my friends, or kindred embodied spirits, alone can have access; to gain novel information by paying a stipulated fee, and then the communication is to be conducted through the medium of a third person and alphabetical rappings, I cannot perceive any great moral or intellectual advancement in the case.

Surely, these are not ‘the spirits of just men made perfect,’ else they would communicate with us (if at all) without money and without price, in some manner corresponding with man’s capacity to receive them.

If these professed communicating spirits are to do our bidding, let them be immediately called upon to point out the manner in which we are to meet or resist the demands and provisions of the Fugitive Slave Bill, Millard Fillmore’s Proclamation, and the accompanying mandates which are now agitating this country from centre to circumference; or some other important matters with which we are connected, or by which we are influenced. But if I am only to be a messenger to communicate with those of the present sphere when I pass into the next, on such unimportant matters, and through the circumscribed, tedious and doubtful mediums set forth in the article referred to, I shall endeavor to hold on the present state with all ‘might and main,’ feeling that here our material and spiritual nature are capable of a higher development or refinement, if no more important business or employment is to be entered into than what has been shown by those mysterious knockings, rappings, shifting tables, chairs, &c.

The Branded Hand of Captain Jonathan Walker, at the Daguerreian Society
(from the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society)


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