Interested in learning more? Here’s a list of recommended books that delve into Spiritualist and occult history. You can find some of these titles at great brick-and-mortar stores like Curio Mrvosa and Curia Arcanum; others through online retailers; and — in the case of “A Report of Mysterious Noises” — exclusively on The Austin Seance merchandise page. Our book selections are listed in chronological order of publication.
A Report of Mysterious Noises; E.E. Lewis;1848
E.E. Lewis’ A Report of The Mysterious Noises Heard in The House of Mr. John D. Fox, first published in 1848, is arguably the most historically significant document in the literature of American Spiritualism. In it, Lewis, through a series of contemporaneous affidavits, has created the authoritative record of America’s first séances. It’s available on The Austin Seance website.
D.D. Home: His Life, His Mission; Madam Home; 1888
Author Julie de Gloumeline, better known as Madam Home, was the second wife of D.D. Home, one of the 19th century’s most famous séance mediums. In this exceedingly sympathetic biography, Madam Home describes her late husband’s séances, his strange bodily levitations, his spirit knockings and other oddness. She also includes plenty of Victorian name dropping, with descriptions of Home’s visits with royalty (including Napoleon), leading writers (such as Alexandre Dumas, Mary Shelly, and Tolstoy), and even Pope Pius IX. Some of Madam Home’s séance descriptions are based on contemporary newspaper accounts and can be quite startling. She also quotes extensively from Home’s private correspondence. This book was originally published in 1888, but is widely available in reprinted editions.
The History of Spiritualism; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; 1926
This two–volume tome explores the history of Spiritualism, soup to nuts, beginning with 18th Century Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, then following with the Fox Sisters, the Davenport Brothers, mediums Eusapia Palladino and Leonora Piper and more. Just the table of contents reads like a Spiritualism 101 syllabus.
The Table Rappers; Ronald Pearsall; 1973
Pearsall approaches spiritualist phenomena with a skeptical eye, but nonetheless acknowledges a few documented cases for which investigators have no good explanation. The book deals with all aspects of the Victorian occult.
Dancing with The Devil; José Limon; 1994
Limon convincingly argues that Mexican-American folk traditions in South Texas — particularly those traditions involving the figure of the devil — often contain race, class, and gender contradictions. Working at the intersection of anthropology, folkloric history, and literary criticism, Limon’s book admittedly is intensely scholarly — but still we find it a fascinating read.
Other Powers; Barbara Goldsmith; 1999
In this fascinating biography, author Goldsmith tells the often scandalous story of Spiritualist Victoria Woodhull , the first woman to run for president of the United States. Woodhull’s life story is recounted against the backdrop of the 19th Century women’s suffragette movement, of which she played a key role. An adherent of a radical philosophy of “Free Love,” Woodhull was attacked mercilessly in the press , by various religious and community leaders, and even by some early women’s rights pioneers.
Radical Spirits; Ann Braude; 2001
In Radical Spirits, researcher Ann Braude contends that the early women’s rights and Spiritualist movements were deeply intertwined. As such, her book makes a convincing argument for the importance of religion in the study of American women’s history. Radical Spirits also includes fascinating accounts of America’s early “trance speakers.”
Buckland’s Book of Spirit Communications; Raymond Buckland; 2004
Although more of a how-to workbook of Spiritualist practices, Buckland’s book does include plenty of interesting historical tidbits. Buckland’s Spirit Communications book also is wicked fun, with DIY instructions for everything from psychometry to the Ouija.
Talking to The Dead; by Barbara Weisberg; 2005
Talking to the Dead follows the fascinating story of Kate and Maggie Fox, two young sisters who were catapulted into fame after apparently making contact with ghostly spirits at their home in 1848. Within a few years of that famous encounter, tens of thousands of Americans were flocking to séances, and an international movement followed.
Occult America; Mitch Horowitz; 2010
Another great book for those looking for an overview of Spiritualist history. As its title implies, this book focuses on the Spiritualist movement in the United States. It also covers plenty of ground, and one feels much smarter for reading it.
The Witch on Lime Street; David Jahar; 2016
This great contemporary book explores the relationship between Mina Crandon, one of America’s most celebrated spirit mediums, and the magician Harry Houdini. A fun read.
High Static Dead Lines; Kristen Gallerneaux; 2018
Media historian and artist Kristen Gallerneaux explores in this odd book the entwined boundaries between sound and esoteric belief. Ms. Gallerneaux’s stories span the mid-nineteenth century to the present day , with the recurring presence of sound serving as a connective thread for each. A very offbeat but nonetheless insightful take on the paranormal.
In the Houses of their Dead; Terry Alford; 2022
A biography of Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, but one that focuses on both men’s connection to the séances and the Spiritualist movement.