Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)


J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

Spiritualism. The belief that the "spirits" of the dead are in communication with the living. The correct name is "Spiritism," which the French use, because Spiritualism is the opposite of Materialism, and simply means a belief in the existence of spiritual beings, disembodied or otherwise. A supposed communication with spirits has been widely claimed in all ages, but Spiritualists explain the genesis of the modern organized movement by saying that the increasing gravity of world affairs induced the spirits to get into regular communication with the living. In point of fact it began in a childish fraud in 1848 - the London Spiritualists celebrated the "seventy-second birthday" of the movement in 1920 - and it has been ever since, like so many religious organizations, a "racket" in which professional mediums and organizers exploit a body of followers. Two young daughters of a farmer named Fox, at Hydesville (not far from Niagara), in a rural and very backward district of America, began to communicate with the dead by raps. A shrewd elder daughter saw the business possibilities of the excitement which was caused, and in a few years Mrs. Fox and her three daughters were plying a very comfortable trade, darkness, music, etc., being gradually added at the seances at the directions - they said - of the spirits. Thirty years later the two younger sisters publicly confessed in New York that it had been an "absolute fraud" from the beginning (report of public meeting in the New York Herald, September 24, 1888). The youngest gave an exhibition in the New York Academy of the way the "raps" were produced by the joints (Herald, October 10, 1888). The documents are reproduced in R. B. Davenport's Death-blow to Spiritualism (1888), and the denials of British Spiritualists are futile; except that the youngest sister - both had taken to drink - seems to have recanted under a threat of being deprived of her children. Yet this crude fraud had started a movement which in a few years had more than half a million followers - the Spiritualists said 2,000,000 - and 2,000 mediums. The wildest claims of "phenomena" (see E. Hardinge's History of Modern American Spiritualism, 1870) were accepted, and some Americans of distinction were converted or took a serious interest. Common sense began to make itself heard about 1857, and the movement shrank; but the mediums had already invaded the richer pastures of England, and here again several scientific and literary men were duped. From that date every prominent physical medium in the movement has been exposed. Speaking and automatic writing mediums may sometimes be honestly deluded, though as a rule it is easy to detect them in fraud, but the more picturesque and notorious mediums are all exposed in the course of time. For D. D. Home, the best known, See Podmore's Newer Spiritualism (1910, p. 45 - his earlier account of Home is feeble), and especially N. Maskelyne's Modern Spiritualism (1868), for a case of gross fraud by Home which was tried in a London court in that year. Maskelyne exposes also the Davenport brothers and other prominent mediums of that time, while Podmore (Modern Spiritualism, Newer Spiritualism) gives most of the exposures to 1910, and exposures from 1900 onward are candidly given in the Proceedings of the S.P.R.. [Society for Psychical Research - RW] and the German journal of the Society, Psychische Studien. Crookes seemed at the time (1870-2) to be completely duped by a blatantly fraudulent (see Podmore) medium, Florence Cook, but Light was compelled to publish (May 12, 1900) a letter in which he admitted that he had found "no satisfactory proof"; and he confessed to Harold Begbie (Master Workers, 1905, p. 215) that he had "come to a brick wall." The different claim he made in his old age is negligible. Eusapia Palladino is exposed in Dr. Hyslop's Contact with the Other World (1919) in Podmore, and in the Journal of the S.P.R. (VII, 133). Craddock was fined £10 for fraud in Edgware Police Court in 1906. Marthe Beraud (Eva C.), who duped Lodge, Barrett, and Richet, is thoroughly exposed by Mathilde von Kemmitz (Moderne Medium-Forschung, 1914). Kathleen Goligher, the next sensation - until her scientific patron Crawford committed suicide (1920) - was detected in fraud by Fournier d'Albe. Hope, the famous "spirit" photographer, is exposed in Harry Price's Cold Light on Spiritualistic Phenomena (1922). A summary history of the movement, with all exposures to that date and a refutation of four-fifths of the Spiritualist claims of distinguished adherents, is given in McCabe's Spiritualism (1920). Some of these so-called "Spiritualist scientists" (Richet, Morselli, Flammarion, etc.) reject the theory of spirits and merely admit abnormal powers in the medium. See Flammarion's Forces naturelles inconnues (1907), in which also the fallacy of the amateur medium making no profit is exposed. For explanations of the tricks see Maskelyne, H. Carrington, McCabe (Is Spiritualism Based on Fraud? 1920), W. E. Robinson, Truesdell, etc.

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