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Halloween To Do: Victorian Spiritualism

October 15, 2011
By GLYNIS VALENTI - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader

BARNESVILLE-Days are shorter; a seasonal damp chill chases people into cozy chairs next to the glow of fireplaces. What is that tapping, tapping at the door? "'Tis the wind and nothing more." Or is it?

Edgar Allen Poe is not considered a Victorian author, but his poem "The Raven" has qualities of the Victorian spiritualistic culture: a mysterious tapping at the door, the death of his beloved and a dark, seemingly supernatural visitor. Spiritualism's official beginnings in 1848 are attributed to the two young Fox sisters in upstate New York, Katherine (12) and Margaret (13), who convinced family members and the public that they heard tapping on the walls of their house. At some point, history says, they realized that the tapping was created by the spirit of a man who had died at the house and was trying to communicate with them.

The complicated Victorian culture was based in morality and the strict religious beliefs of reward, punishment and the hereafter. The family unit was important as cities grew and the pace of life changed. In America, loved ones were lost during a tuberculosis outbreak and the Civil War. Children died in infancy. Death hovered close by.

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Prominent historical Barnesville families will be the subjects of a cemetery tour hosted by the Belmont County Historical Society on Oct. 22.

After the Fox sisters' claims, others began touting similar occurrences and abilities: rapping on walls or tables, hearing voices of those who have passed on, healing with energy, moving furniture and finally manifesting spirits and objects. Spiritualism, the practice of contacting and communicating with the dead, was born.

The Victorian era moved from Romanticism to an age of scientific discovery and logic, named for and generally encompassing the reign of Britain's Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901.

Gothic literature became popular with its castles, ghosts, stormy nights and scientific experiments gone wrong, like Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man. Spiritualism provided a thrill connected with the mystery of death and the creepiness of the dark. On the other hand, it also provided proof, as it was, that loved ones were still around, proof that there was a place to go after death.

The idea of proof appealed to the Victorians and made seances a normal evening pastime for the upper classes and stage shows of mediums (someone who channels spiritual energy) and fortune tellers popular for the masses. Even Thomas Edison tried to create a phonograph apparatus designed to speak to the dead. In Britain, Henry Sedgwick, a Cambridge professor of moral philosophy, founded the Society of Psychical Research to collect and scientifically analyze physical data brought forth in spiritualistic encounters.

Spiritualism had a part in another historical movement, women's rights. Early Victorian women were submissive and considered good conduits between this and the spirit world because of their passivity and credibility as mothers and wives. Giving women the training and responsibility to become mediums and placing them in the spotlight, literally, increased their confidence, experience and worldliness as the "second" Industrial Revolution and World War I arrived. Spiritualism declined as more women found interests outside of the home.

Spiritualism is still alive and well-so to speak-today, but the Victorian creepiness and side show aspects are not part of the real thing. Though modern day mediums may work in "entertainment" atmospheres like parties or fairs, their purpose is to pass along messages that will comfort or help the seeker.

Such is the case with Dr. Carol Borkoski, a medium, angel reader and healer from Dillonvale. She begins with meditation to clear her mind and "get out of the ego" then prays to be of service and help those seeking guidance. "I always go to the Greater Light. It's up to us to be discerning about the energy we allow in."

Borkoski explains that some mediums have specific contacts with whom they work in the spirit realm. These "guardians," "guides" or "gatekeepers" filter through the energy to bring forth the relevant spirits and facilitate the conversation. "It's like a dance where we go back and forth, or like talking on the phone." She adds that spirits generally want to "help and uplift" and bring good news or comfort to those on earth. "The fear and negativity being promoted now is so harmful. They want us to see a larger, brighter, bolder picture and focus on love and light." Her mission is "to help people heal, whether they've passed on or are still here."

She and her sister, Dolly Grady, often work together on readings. Both have developed their psychic gifts through training and say everyone has the ability to channel energy in varying degrees. Dolly is able to read a seeker's soul energy and paints the results in a "psychic portrait." They work together at events and at Wheeling's Way Memorial Temple First Spiritualist Church.

On Saturday, Oct. 22, beginning at 6 p.m. the Belmont County Historical Society will present a "Victorian Psychic Evening" with readings by Borkoski and Grady as well as palm readings by Debra of New Philadelphia and hand writing analysis by John Moore. Reservations/appointments are required for all readings.

Local historian Emory Stewart will be conducting lantern walking tours of Northern Cemetery (formerly Greenmount) at 7, 8 and 9 p.m. The cemetery dates to the mid-1800's and sits on one of the highest vantage points in Barnesville. The land, approximately 5.5 acres, was originally owned by Barnesville founder Joseph Barnes, and many of the town's historically prominent families rest there.

Tickets for the event are limited and are $25 each with one reading appointment, the cemetery tour, a tour of the mansion and refreshments included. Call (740) 425-1112 or (740) 425-2228 for reservations and tickets.

As darkness descends and All Hallow's Eve approaches with its goblins and shrieking ghosts, try the Victorian point of view remembering friends and loved ones now happily living on the other side of the veil.



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