Timothy Taylor Feels the Angels’ Power through a Spirit Photo

Rev. T[imothy] B. Taylor, A. M.  Old Theology Turned Upside Down; or Right Side Up, by a Methodist Preacher.  Fort Scott, KS: Monitor Publishing Company, 1871: 188-191.

At the time Reverend Taylor published this book, he had been a member of the Methodist Church for over thirty years and a regular ordained clergyman for twenty-three years, and had served as a circuit rider as well as a pastor and a teacher.  The year after Taylor published Old Theology Turned Upside Down, he became one of only three ministers ever tried by the Methodist church for heresy, for his contention that a literal understanding of the miracles of the Bible was “absurd” and for his efforts to explain religious experience naturalistically—or, perhaps better put, to equate or correlate such “supernatural” things as angels and spirits with such natural things as electromagnetic energy.  In 1868-69, he had served on a committee of “scientific gentlemen” that investigated, “from a scientific standpoint, the various phases of phenomena called ‘spiritual,’ that had become notorious in the cities of Indianapolis, Jeffersonville, and Crawfordsville, Indiana, and Cincinnati, Dayton, and other places in Ohio.”  Helena Blavatsky read Taylor’s articles in the spiritualist newspapers and hoped to recruit him for a group that would study psychic phenomena.  Reverend Taylor’s experience with the spirit photo described below is particularly interesting for its Methodist coloration—JB

On last Thursday, June 22d, 1871, I went to the post-office in this city (Fort Scott), and found a letter in my box, and, on taking the same out, as I walked along on the street, returning to my office as my custom is, I opened the letter and saw that it was from a lady friend of our family, whose husband had died at my house some six months previously.  The envelope contained a letter and a photograph, or “tin-type,” picture of the lady, Mrs. July C. Davis, then residing in Indianapolis, Ind., and two other shadowy or rather dim pictures, one of a gentleman aged about forty years, and that of a child aged a few months only.

Seeing who the letter was from, and what it contained as to pictures, I walked along up into my office, and, throwing the picture down on the table, sat down and commenced to read the letter.  I had often seen what were called “spirit pictures,” taken by Mumler of New York, Willis of Crawfordsville, and Clarke of Jeffersonville, for an investigation into that wonderful feature of the phenomena was a part of the duty of the committee, and we had unanimously written it down as “a fact in photography,” leaving all others to account for the modus operandi, so I was not particularly interested in these pictures, as I did not suppose that they contained anything new.  Opening the letter, the first paragraph read as follows:

“DEAR UNCLE: I have just been to see a spirit artist, hoping to get a picture of dear Frank and little Lillie; but, instead of getting their pictures, these that you see came on the plate.  Lizzie Keyser says aunt Thenie tells her that the babe picture is your little Timmy Findlay, but did not say who the man is, and none of us here recognize him.  Do you?”

A word of explanation here: The ‘dear Frank” spoken of was a nephew of mine, and died at my house, hence I am addressed as the lady’s uncle.  The “little Lillie” is the only child of Frank and July, deceased several years ago.  The “Lizzie Keyser” is what is called, now-a-days, a clairvoyant and clairaudient—in apostolic times such were said to have the wonderful gift of “discerning spirits,” that is, could see spirits.  The “aunt Thenie” spoken of was the wife of my youth, departed this life in Charleston, Ill., December 27, 1856.

Having given this explanation, I will proceed with the balance of this story, including the most wonderful experience of my life.

On reading the paragraph quoted above, down to where the question is asked, “Do you?” I laid down the letter and picked up the picture and scrutinized it closely.  As I did so, I said, audibly: “It looks like Brother Jonce, any how.”  I had scarcely uttered these words when dash after dash of that which felt like a modified or refined form of electricity, powerful in its effects, yet entirely pleasant to the feelings, came upon me without consultation or agreement.  These shocks were repeated five or six times in quick succession, which went crashing downward from the top and back of the head until the whole frame was in a universal tremor, until I thought that I should fall prostrate on the floor under “the power.”  Ere I knew it, I was weeping like infancy, the tears streaming from my eyes, and for a full half-hour I was wholly unable to control myself, but continued to weep aloud till I thought I should arrest the attention of the passers-by upon the streets.  I was exceedingly happy, and if I had never been converted before, I know I was then and there—and that “powerfully converted,” judging from my feelings, emotions, and the effect produced; and these are the criterions that people go by on the question of conversion, when viewed from a theological standpoint.

So far, in these experiences, I have mainly aimed to state facts, without stopping to speculate or indulge in theorizing, and would rather, now, pass on, without stopping to offer a theory on this point.  I will only say that the emotions that I had were precisely the same that I had felt a thousand times before in religious meetings—only, never before did they come with such a power.

I was not at all in a religious mood, in the common acceptation of that term; that is, I was not praying, singing, meditating, or anything of the kind that is commonly supposed to be essential to the “out-pouring of the spirit,” but simply considering a simple scientific fact, without emotion, thought or desire for any such thing, yet the “power” came and I was “wonderfully blessed.”

Now, I believe that this whole case, and all others similar to it, can be accounted for upon purely natural and scientific principles.  And these are that such effects are produced by our surrounding invisible, ministering, guardian angels, through the agency of this mysterious force called the magnetic force.

When we shall have grown older, and come to know more of the occult and hidden forces of nature, we will see and understand these things more and more fully, and have less and less occasion to look to the supernatural for a solution to the phenomena of conversion among the Methodists and others, the “jerks” among the Presbyterians, (which has long since died out,) or the dance among the Shakers.

So I feel, so I reason.  I let the facts given go to the world for what they are worth.  Thinking men will ponder over them; fanatics in religion will scoff and sneer, and brainless souls will say, “I care for none of these things.”


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