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The Movement known as Modern Spiritualism somewhat implies that there
must be an ancient Spiritualism. Unsurprisingly is that in all ages, arising
from the perennial psychic nature of man, psychic phenomena in varying
forms have always been known. However, before 1848 then psychic happenings
were usually regarded as ghostly and mysterious; indeed people had a real
dread of them.
Accordingly, up to the 19th. Century, priest-hoods, often collectively
and generally politically aligned to suit their own purposes, pronounced,
what were after all quite natural occurrences, to be of the 'devil'. With
most people uneducated in those times such pronouncements easily instilled
fear into virtually everybody's minds. Then in 1848 [the actual date being
March 31st.] Modern Spiritualism came into being. That day, truly an historic
event, is when a two-way intelligently established communication between
a 'dead' spirit person and an ordinary working family in Hydesville, New
York, USA, was made. [Go to Spiritualism World-Wide]
Up to 1870, immigrants from Europe,
principally the British Isles, were regularly arriving to settle in NZ
and in those early days, with the discovery of gold in 1861 the South
Island became particularly attractive. First settled in 1848 Dunedin,
a city in the southern province of Otago became, for a time, the capital
of NZ. Naturally, some new settlers brought with them Spiritualistic thoughts
which, by then, had spread like wildfire throughout the western world.
As such, Spiritualist literature began to circulate among the public;
newspapers too were not backward in providing coverage of the emerging
religion either. Some prominent citizens here were actively involved in
its promulgation. Early on, various séance groups and circles were
formed and continued their activities from then onwards. Spiritualism
having had such a buoyant start in public exposure continued to enjoy
a high profile during the last quarter of the 19th century.
perhaps, Dunedin also became the home of the Free-Thought Movement, which
was founded on the 30th. March 1876 as 'The Dunedin Eclectic Society'.
In 1878, the title was changed to 'The Dunedin Free-Thought Association'
with, according to the Rationalist Association's centenary notes, 'an
approximate membership of some 2,000 comprising Theists, Atheists, Agnostics,
Pantheists, Unitarians and Spiritualists'. Among the mainstays of the
Movement were Robert
Stout and John Balance, who both became Prime Ministers of NZ [Robert
in 1884 and John in 1891]. It was under the auspices of the 'Free-Thought
Association' that, in 1879, the great pioneering medium and orator, Emma
Hardinge Britten, visited New Zealand. An equally widely travelled American
pastor and Spiritualist lecturer, Dr. James Peebles, later followed her.
The Hon. Robert Stout was the then Attorney General and Member of Parliament
for Dunedin. Interestingly, he chaired Emma Hardinge Britten's famous
public meeting at the Garrison Hall in Dunedin, which was attended by
no less than 1,800 people. [Go to Biographies.]
Adherents to the aforementioned Free-Thought Movement gradually divided
into two factions, the Spiritualist and the Agnostic & Atheist. In
1907, The Spiritualist one culminated in the National Association of Spiritualists
and in 1924 it was renamed The Spiritualist Church of New Zealand. The
Free Thought Movement culminated in the Rationalist and Sunday Freedom
Meanwhile, an increasing number of independent Spiritualist
churches, societies and informal groups became established mostly - but
by no means solely - in the main towns of NZ. Many were formed around
and through the activities of the various Speakers and Mediums of the
time. Then, in 1867 another gold-field was discovered in the North Island
town of Thames. Incidentally, it was here in 1873 that one of New Zealand's
most prominent Spiritualist pioneers, Jane
Harris-Roberts married her first husband, Thomas Harris - a medium
- whom in fact, introduced her to Spiritualism.
1891-1900. From Rationalist records we learn that the 'Free-Thought
Association' - apparently due largely to the influence of Spiritualism'
- eventually collapsed in 1893. Then, as was already being done overseas
in countries such as England, Canada, USA and Australia, here too the
foundations were laid for the unifying of sundry small Spiritualist Churches
and Societies, etc. into a New Zealand-wide organisation. Accordingly,
the Spiritualists became The National Association of Spiritualists in
1907 [and in 1924, The Spiritualist Church of New Zealand]. Meanwhile,
the FTA culminated in a Rationalist Association as The Rationalist and
Sunday Freedom League.
1905-1911. The move towards a unifying
body intensified and on 8th. February 1907, The National Association of
Spiritualists of New Zealand Incorporated [the NAS] was formed to further
the interests of Spiritualism as a 'movement'. Its first President was
Mr. William McLean, with Vice-President Mr. W. C. Nation and the Secretary
a Mr. Miles.
This picture is of the delegates at
the Fifth 'National Association of Spiritualists of New Zealand (Incorporated)',
held at the Club House, Moray Place, Dunedin in April 1911. Front row,
looking L-R, second from left Jane Harris-Roberts [known as 'The 'Mater'],
William McLean of Wellington, and W. C. Nation of Levin [also National
President]. Picture taken from 'Harbinger of Light' - issue June 1, 1911
1914. The NAS, re-vitalised, has become
The National Association of Spiritualist Churches of New Zealand Incorporated
[NASCNZ] with the idea of uniting groups rather than individuals. The
organisation was known colloquially as 'The National Church'.
1923. This is reformed yet again into
the 'Spiritualist Church of New Zealand' (SCNZ) and it is [now] actively
engaged in seeking recognition as a Corporate Body - as the Baptists and
others had done - from the New Zealand Parliament. The purpose was to
give Spiritualism equal standing with other Orthodox Churches.
This picture is of the Sixth Annual
Convention of the National Association of Spiritualists held at Christchurch
during Easter 1912. Present were delegates from Auckland, Levin, Waihi,
Wellington, New Plymouth. Wellington and Christchurch Lyceums also attended.
Also attending were representatives from Victoria and Queensland, Australia.
1924. Under the guidance of Thomas
G. Poytnon, a Stipendiary Magistrate, the Incorporation Bill [1924 No.2]
for The Spiritualist Church of New Zealand was introduced into the New
Zealand Parliament. Noted here too is that Mr. G. L. Anderson and Mr.
Sam Williams were very much to the fore in this endeavour. On 22nd. September
1924 'The Spiritualist Church of New Zealand' [SCNZ] bill passed through
parliament and became law [Act 1924, No.2].
1925 onwards. Notwithstanding the above,
up until the present year  the SCNZ has never been able to bring
all Spiritualist churches under its umbrella. The probable cause, as with
all Spiritualist ventures is the lack of funds both nationally and individually,
which mostly prove to be the biggest obstacle. Many have also not been
able to maintain a continuity of existence through both fluctuating availability
of mediums and the equally fluctuating standards of mediumship being demonstrated.
Nonetheless, the majority of Spiritualist Churches and societies in New
Zealand, which are not affiliated with - and in fact are independent of
the SCNZ, still function successfully. The Spiritualist Alliance [Auckland]
Incorporated was an original member of the SCNZ in 1924, but withdrew
in 1982. Interestingly, we celebrate our 95th anniversary of continuous
existence in 2006!
Non-church Organisations. These too
have come and gone but some have made notable contributions to Spiritualism,
a few examples of which are as follows: In 1939, Wellington Psychic Research
Society and a sister society in Christchurch were formed and 'The Founder'
and first president of both was Mrs. Sinclair Burns. For several years
Auckland had the 'Quest Club and Psychic Institute'. This was founded
and fostered by Mr. and Mrs. S. Oldfield with great zeal and loyalty.
The Bycroft Psychic Library in Christchurch, founded by Mr. G. Lovell-Smith,
had about 1500 volumes and did untold educational work all over the country
for many years as well.
Some Outstanding NZ Mediums and Psychics [up
to 1948]. Miss Pearl Judd, of Dunedin, was one extremely outstanding
direct voice medium. In her presence, with the assistance of sound vibrations
from a piano for instance, recognisable spirit voices were heard with
force, clarity and most importantly, identification. Even more interesting
is that the medium remained perfectly normal [not in trance and often
knitting too] working in both daylight and or artificial light.
Mr. Lancelot Brice of Christchurch at his weekly 'trumpet' séances
demonstrated direct voice for over 20 years. There were other voice mediums
that worked privately and as well, trance mediumship was fairly common.
There were quite a few psychic artists who drew and others who did sculptures.
A psychic artist of note was Mrs. Berta Sinclair Burns, whose work was
exhibited in the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts on three occasions.
She worked in fine pencil, charcoal, or oils, at great speed. Significantly,
in all of her years as a psychic artist, no matter what medium she used,
no eraser was ever employed and not a single wrong line was ever made.
Another gifted artist was Mrs. Kathleen Philpott of Auckland. Outstanding
also was the psychic sculpture of Mrs. Buick of Christchurch. And Donald
McLean - of Christchurch also - was a psychic carver.
Some of the outstanding Spiritualists who visited New Zealand.
Among those who did visit during the early part of the 20th century were
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1920; Mr. Horace Leaf, 1922 and the celebrated
American medium, Arthur Ford in 1937. As far as we are aware, Arthur Ford
was also the first Spiritualist and medium to be allowed broadcast his
messages over the radio waves in NZ. However, it was not until the late
1960's that Spiritualism was again accorded that privilege. On that occasion,
as the invited guest of Radio New Zealand's Religious Department, the
late Mr. Harold Sell, our then Church President, gave a pre-recorded address.
Even so, worth noting is that his address was only approved after the
third draft. Thus, after stiff vetting, all references to Sir Robert Stout's
involvement with Spiritualism had been deleted and were not permitted
Publications. For many years Mr. W.
C. Nation of Levin edited his 'Message of Life' newspaper. After his death,
Mrs. Sinclair Burns published 'Aquarius'. In the 1980's Mr. Ron Gibbs,
of Auckland, published the 'NZ Psychic Gazette', and also, for approximately
15 years up until 2005, Mrs. Helen Collins published 'Expressions'. Some
churches issue their own in-house newsletter. The most informative and
educational one produced in the latter half of the 20th. Century has been
'The Communicator'. First issued quarterly by The Spiritualist Alliance
in 1978, it was re-named 'The Spiritualist Communicator' in 2005 and is
now issued bi-monthly.
Up to the 1960's, there were occasional legal prosecutions of Spiritualists.
This was because certain clauses in the then Crimes and Polices Offences
Act made it possible for Spiritualism's opponents to bring Spiritualist
Mediums into court in New Zealand on charges of 'witchcraft', 'fortune
telling' and or 'fraudulence'. Such concepts dated back to the 1880's
in English law and these clauses were 'copied' and passed into the New
Zealand statutes. During the 1950's efforts were being made in England
to have these clauses removed and too, somewhat similar efforts were being
made in respect New Zealand laws. A special committee of the SCNZ was
formed do this in New Zealand. At that time, as a member of an associated
church, Mr. J. W. Graham, and other members were appointed to this special
committee. [As aforementioned, The Spiritualist Alliance was associated
to the NAS and the NASC up until 1982, when it resolved to become independent.]
It should also be noted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
was passed and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations
on the 10th. December 1948 and that meant that it was being promulgated
throughout the world. This resulted in Spiritualists around the world
propounding that they too should be given the rights, protection and benefits
of clause 18 of the Declaration. Another aspect in this 'interest' theme
is that Maori Priests or Tohungas were practicing, according to the customs
among the Maori people since, before [and after] the arrival of Europeans.
These Tohungas have a distinct resemblance to Spiritualist mediums in
many of their acts and practices. In 1907 and 1908 the New Zealand Parliament
enacted the Tohunga Suppression Act [1907 No.13 and 1908 No.193] making
certain of their practices criminal offences. Naturally, much opposition
was forthcoming to the suppression of some Maori religious practices but
this act was not repealed until 1962.
1965. On October 13th. Mr. J. A. Lawson,
the then President of the SCNZ, petitioned Parliament pleading for the
revision of these offensive laws, but without much effect at the time.
1973. From the 22nd. May and onwards
other submissions and pleas were made to the Statutes Revision Committee
of the New Zealand Parliament. Two members of the SCNZ committee, Mr.
Ron Gibbs and Mr. Joe Graham went to Wellington to plead the cause of
Spiritualism, asking that the revision of the statutes be altered to our
advantage. However, delays occurred, so it was not until eight years later,
after some further entreaties by the then SCNZ Secretary that the specific
acts were re-drafted and the clauses offensive to Spiritualists were omitted.
[Similar changes to the appropriate laws in the UK had also helped the
New Zealand cause.]
can and do, safely practice their religion without any fear of persecution
or prosecution at the Law Courts by the opponents of Spiritualism. However,
a negative aspect of this freedom has arisen in today's climate with the
proliferation of psychic fortune-tellers' adverts, 'phone-in 'psychic'
lines in the media. It must be properly and clearly understood that these
have nothing to do with the Spiritualist Movement. Equally, such proponents
of the fortune-telling brigade are only psychics and are neither Spiritualists
as such, non mediums! [see POST
[References as follows:
Harold Sell [late Spiritualist Alliance President], J. W. Graham [late
Spiritualist Alliance Life Member and Historian] Spiritualist Pioneer
Emma Hardinge Britten; the Rationalist Association; the Australian publication
'The Harbinger of Light' and the Encyclopædia of New Zealand.]