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St. Michael and Spiritualism: a Hidden History?

November 28, AD2015

Frank - facade and statue

During the research for my book Pope Leo XIII and the Prayer to St. Michael, I came across some intriguing research on the movement known as “Spiritualism” or “Spiritism.” Regretfully, this was an area that I was not able to incorporate much in the book. I would like to sketch briefly the “hidden” history between the Spiritualism movement and the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.

Spiritualism and the Catholic Church

For a more in-depth look at the history of Spiritualism and its relation to the Catholic Church, Fr. Herbert Thurston, S.J. has perhaps one of the best books on the subject entitled The Church and Spiritualism (see also here). For our purposes, Spiritualism was a movement that began roughly in the mid-1800s. It attempted communication with spirits and was, in part, a response to Liberalism, Rationalism and Materialism which were then devastating Europe and the cause of religion in particular.

Arguably, one of the reasons why not a few people with religious sensibilities dabbled with Spiritualism was because they felt compelled to demonstrate empirical evidence of spiritual forces. They were, however, playing with hidden forces, today known as the “spirit world” or, in proper Catholic theology, the “preternatural.” From these experiments came various phenomena with which Spiritualism became known: séances, rapping or unexplained noises/voices, levitating tables and the like. These things and others became all the rage in Victorian England for example, and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was an enthusiast.

The effort to provide empirical evidence of the preternatural was very, very dangerous and for a number of reasons. One of which is that the intention backfired as such efforts actually demonstrate a lack of faith. J. Godfrey Raupert, one of the Church’s most excellent apologists against Spiritualism, provided a fitting quote in his book The Supreme Problem (100-111). He wrote:

The root of [sic] spiritism…is the diseased moral condition of the age. Unsatisfied by the emptiness of materialism, and too powerfully dominated by intellectual pride to submit to the law of Christ, men seek another world capable of demonstrative proof….From the point of view of the believing Catholic, these strivings after higher knowledge have in them something which is at once piteous and abject. That men should trust such important issues to the workings of an imagination disordered and frequently diseased; that they should build a system upon phenomena which elude rational examination; that they should stake their hopes for time and eternity upon manifestations which have so much in common with the juggleries of the magician, while at the same time they shut their eyes to the proofs of supernatural life and supernatural power which living Christianity offers them, is a melancholy example of that fatuous superstition which is so often the punishment of unbelief.

In short, Spiritualism is divination or curiosity-seeking as opposed to seeking God as He revealed Himself. This fact demonstrated a fundamental atheism, which, it must be noted, is what united seemingly disparate movements (Spiritualism, Rationalism, Liberalism and Materialism). For our purposes here, atheism can be defined as disbelief in or turning away from the self-disclosure/revelation of God to man.

Based upon precedents set by the Protestant Revolution through the French Revolution, mankind was making as his god the empirical sciences. Spiritualism was a complimentary lie that pretended to offer empirical evidence for things unseen but which was, in truth, an offense to the Almighty. While Spiritualism largely quieted down around the time of World War I, interest remained in one form or another. Its ghost has come down to us today by such mediums such as TV programs on ghosts and “ghost hunting” for entertainment purposes.[i]

Spiritualism and Today

Hauntings, possessions, demonic activity and the like are quite real and are not something with which we ought to trifle, much less take as entertainment. This is one of the reasons why I am forced to be critical of self-styled “ghost hunters” programs. Other than obvious charades, attempts are made to obtain empirical evidence of the existence of spirits, and, simultaneously, to help people experiencing any phenomena. Consider that the “ghost hunters” are opening themselves up to serious—and oppressing—realities. Moreover, what purpose is being served, to help others or to serve one’s own unbelief?

There is a veil that separates mankind from eternity and man has ever tried to tear back that veil. In this life, we are called to faith. Thus I ask whether or not the attempt to find empirical evidence for the preternatural is truly about helping other people or really trying to shore-up one’s own unbelief/doubt.[ii] Could it also be a case of killing two birds with one stone? I do not know, but what is sure is that we are called to faith and this is the path that God has set for us. We ought not to transgress it. St. John of the Cross taught that when man transgresses the boundaries set by God, the Almighty is displeased (cf. questions 196-197, Refractions of Light).

Regardless of how one looks at contemporary events, there is behind them that fundamental atheism spoken about earlier. Insofar as it pertained to the 19th century, atheism was growing in power and was championed by sects such as the Freemasons and other such groups. Against these groups and the larger societal trends, Pope Leo XIII himself wrote on numerous occasions.

Pope Leo XIII & the Attacks Upon the Church

In chapter 6 of Pope Leo XIII and the Prayer to St. Michael, I demonstrated an important connection between Pope Leo’s vision and the Freemasons. This connection (and others outside of the scope of this article) causes me to speculate upon whether or not there is a link between Leo’s vision and Spiritualism.

Chapter 6 discusses the book Mary Crushes the Serpent, edited by a German priest named Fr. Theodore Geiger. The book is the journal of an unnamed exorcist from the latter half of the 19th century into the early 20th. The exorcist wrote of many experiences, even conversations that he had with demons. According to Fr. Geiger, the manuscript went to Rome where it was reviewed and sent back with a note. Geiger said the note indicated that “the entire work harmonized with the considerations which at that time moved the Holy Father, Pope Leo XIII, to compose the prayer to be said after Mass in order to counteract the attacks of Satan.”

For our purposes, I discovered that those attacks involved a connection between Spiritualism, Materialism, Rationalism and Liberalism, and the battle of the Church with these movements. While the information is, at this time, scant as to what Leo saw, the evidence suggests that it involved the above-mentioned sects and their machinations. The particulars I leave for people to read in my book. I will only say here that based upon that evidence and how I have fleshed it out in this present article, there appears to be a “hidden history” behind the prayer to St. Michael. I hope to discuss it more in the second edition of my book.

One thing is for sure: the prayer to St. Michael was written at a particularly difficult time for the Church, and those difficulties are, arguably, still quite relevant today. May we pray this prayer ever more fervently and the Pastors of the Church promote it.


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[i] Please note that I am not here referring to good and faithful people who study demonology and assist the clergy who themselves are helping people oppressed by demons.

[ii] In days past, and in the Catholic Church, those who handled issues involving the preternatural were usually ordained clergy. One presumes that ordained clergy already possess a strong faith and the theological training necessary for these affairs. This presumption is no longer viable owing to many shifts and changes both within and without the Catholic Church. In addition, the lay faithful are more involved in such cases nowadays and they do not always possess the requisite training. One gentleman in particular that I have seen on television actually cusses at demons. I am grateful to Fr. Mike Driscoll who wrote an excellent book Demons, Deliverance and Discernment wherein he points people to the authentic Catholic tradition in these affairs.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Kevin Symonds was born and raised in Massachusetts. He attended Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio where he obtained his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Theology with emphasis in the classical languages. He has published Internet and magazine articles and resides in Texas. His first book, “Refractions of Light: 201 Answers on Apparitions, Visions and the Catholic Church” is now available at Amazon.

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  • CharlesOConnell

    You can see in a book by an historian of abortion and the press, https://books.google.com/books?id=hAEz59UAIfsC&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=spiritism that spiritism was a recent origin (after Bogomilism and Catharism) of “free love” arguments that an “unwanted” child is better off being aborted. (If God didn’t want them, He wouldn’t have made them.) American Birth Control League founder Margaret Sanger was, among other things, a practicing spiritualist. Current abortion ideology may directly come from spiritism through Sanger.

  • The difference between the spiritualist movement and Christianity is pride. The spiritualists wanted the preternatural and God on their own terms. They didn’t want to be bothered with actually trusting in faith. That’s no different from today in the New Age movement or all the people who mish-mash various religious beliefs together to create their own religion of 1.Inevitably, they create a god of their own imagination that has no resemblance to the real God. And they are the worse off for it. There is something comforting in “letting go and letting God”, in trusting in His mercy and letting things in His hands. The bible is all too full of humans NOT doing that and bringing more disaster.

    • Howard

      The difference is much the same as the difference between a prayer and a magical spell.

    • Linda

      Now “Howard” has shown his true colors.

    • Howard

      Um, thanks, “Linda”?

    • Howard

      Seriously, although I think you meant that comment to be somehow offensive to me, I don’t see any way in which I was being a jerk in this conversation. In some other conversations, the case against me may be much more plausible, but not really here.

      The difference between a prayer and a magical spell is ultimately that every prayer has, implicitly if not explicitly, “Thy will be done” or “nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” or “be it done to me according to thy word,” whereas a spell is an attempt to force an outcome. Forcing an outcome on the material world is usually OK; for example, if I want to boil some water, I can just put it into a pot and put the pot over a fire or some other heat source. Forcing a human person is tied up with all kinds of ugly behaviors — rape, slavery, kidnapping, etc. — which is a pretty strong hint that it is not the right thing to try, regardless of whether or not it might be successful. It is at the very least intensely disrespectful.

      Of course this is somewhat obscured by the fact that when people pray, they really do have something in mind that they want: for someone to recover from an illness, for example. However, we know we are not really telling God anything He doesn’t already know, nor is God any less merciful if we do pray than if we don’t. Implicit in all these prayers, as I said before, is a submission to God’s will; they are requests, not commands.

      Now Catholics do believe that from time to time God permits at least certain saints to interact with us, and there are some pretty reliable accounts of souls in Purgatory doing the same. There are even numerous accounts of souls in Hell contacting us, but it is much more controversial whether these spirits are who they claim to be, and in any event such contact is to be avoided. But even with, say, the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are not in any position to demand a sign. We may ask saints to pray for us to God, but not to appear before us and answer questions. Even if Spiritualism does not claim to force spirits to appear, it certainly does try to initiate contact in a way we are not allowed to do.

      Oh, and even if “the Blessed Virgin Mary” or “the Angel Gabriel” or whoever should appear, and even if the event is not merely a delusion or some sort of human fraud, there is always the chance that the spirit is not who it claims to be. This is why it is necessary to try the spirits, mostly by submitting private revelations to the discernment of the Church. Spiritualism really does not have a good mechanism for identifying those to whom they might be speaking, even assuming they have some real “contact”.

      At any rate, this is a VERY LONG explanation of what I meant by a very short comment. I was really doing little more than agreeing with WelderChick: the difference is pride and control.

    • Linda

      I apologize, Howard. I had read your one-sentence comment “The difference is much the same as the difference between a prayer and a magical spell,” with a tone of sarcasm, which would have meant that there was NO difference between a prayer and a magical spell. Thank you for your thoughtful response above. I have reread it several times because it contains a lot of information to reflect upon. Thanks, again!

    • Howard

      No problem. I was confused by your comment as well. I’m glad it’s not a real disagreement!

  • james

    After death communication or ADC is a spiritual phenomenon that doesn’t seek to reveal the unknowable but uses faith and hope to identify what was known. The incalculable number of testimonies from every walk of life offer signs that the spirit world is a thin invisible line able to be recognized by those in need of healing. It is a totally subjective experience that dovetails with the beatitude “Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Good subject, Kevin and a
    lesson for our time.

    • Howard

      Please read Fr. Thurston’s book. I can think of a number of problems with the course of action you suggest, and many if not all of them are addressed in his book.

    • james

      Thanks sir, but I have my own first hand experience that can’t be refuted. It happened
      to me, it happens to untold millions, it is an undeserved blessing that should not be
      ridiculed as it comes from the hand of God.

    • Howard

      I see. And I should take your word that your “own first hand experience … comes from the hand of God” because …? Your experience, consisting of no real details and coming from an unknown, anonymous person on the Internet, really has the same inherent initial credibility as Laura’s “True Tale”, but even if you had as much evidence in your favor as the seers of Fatima, no one is obligated to believe claims of private revelation. I have no way of knowing what, if anything, you may have personally experienced, but if you want other to take your claims seriously, you need to start by placing it in the context of trustworthy ideas; if you think your experience is important enough — rather than an experience that would only be meaningful to you, and such are not uncommon — perhaps you should speak to your bishop about it. Otherwise, it is wise to be skeptical.

    • james

      I suspect the lack of “real details” is a good reason to be skeptical, but those who are mourning and touched by this comfort could care less about anyone who does not believe them. Your mind is obviously closed sir, and that is fine.

    • Howard

      Excuse me, but why exactly are you typing these things? Are you just making a half-hearted effort to be persuasive, failing early and giving up, or are just just typing away to practice your keyboard skills?

      You have said so little that I really have no way of knowing if you are a Catholic, a Wiccan, or something in between. You might be a fraud, you might be mentally ill, you might be experiencing natural phenomena and honestly misinterpreting them, or you might be experiencing preternatural phenomena that deceive you. It does not appear that you are a Catholic engaged in an authentic Catholic practice, or else you presumably would have said so — and at any rate, if this is what you are and what you are doing, here is your opportunity to say so, with reference to the history of the practice and its approval by the Church. But without something to back yourself up, I am as open-minded to your claim as I would be if you claimed to be Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna of Russia; I can think of several alternatives, but the literal truth of your claim does not figure prominently among them.

    • james

      ” I am as open-minded to your claim as I would be if you claimed to be Grand Duchess Anastasia ..”

      Enough said, friend. Have a good night.

    • Chris Piotrowski

      James, you are either into the New Age or the The Occult, and are literally playing with the fires of Hell, which will burn you in this life and in the next. Your “comfort” that you provide is a direct communication with a Evil Spirits and is a deception. Even if your information is accurate, where you have received from it is from Hell itself .

    • james

      Thanks Chris; noted.

    • Chris Piotrowski

      James, it is out of concern for you and for your soul that I have gave you this warning, God bless you .

    • james

      Chris, in all sincerity, God bless you too.

    • Chris Piotrowski

      Hello James, this link may help you.

      http://www.cuttingedge.org/news/n2260.cfm

    • james

      So Chris, how much does a subscription to the National Enquirer cost these days ? I don’t mean in wasted brain synapses but in dollars and cents. Do they charge postage or is that part of the hidden cost. ?

    • adam aquinas

      We receive information from a variety of sources …reading, meditation, natural law, our senses and mind, our contemplation. This response is based upon a fundamental arrogance as the New Age is really that which predates recorded religious history. We learn from our union with The Source’s energy of love, we learn from our spiritual masters and guides, we learn from nature, reading, reflection and other people, from our previous lives. Who are we to judge sources of information?
      Fr Pierre Teillard de Chardin wrote in the The Phenomenon of Man in 1955 that “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we a spiritual beings having a human experience.” Who are any of us to judge. Communication from other sources are good if they allow us and direct us to live good lives. Information from the :”Evil Spirits” which leads us to live good lives cannot be evil….that would be an innate contradiction.

    • Chris Piotrowski

      Receive information from where and what? I’ll tell you where, from hostile, super-intelligent beings , Demons, whose purpose for communication with you is to lead you to Hell. You read books that are erroneous from people who have been deceived themselves, they are all rehashed heresies and lies. “Contemplation” on what ? The “God” within , I AM GOD new agers say, NO sin, NO hell, No consequences, I wonder who or what told them that. “Fundamental arrogance” you mean like The Ten Commandments , The Bible , The Teaching Authority of the Church, The lives of The Saints. You obviously do believe in objective truth or objective morality, then you must believe all opinions must be valid like say peadophilles, or would you say mustn’t we Judge. Where are the boundary’s drawn? By you or by Dangerous Heretics like De Chardin who was removed from teaching by the Church because of his heresies, or By God Himself, revealed through his Church. You are having your honeymoon period with your “spirit guides” and what “good” you have received from them you will have to pay many times over for. The next time your “guides” show up Command them in the name of Jesus Christ, to reveal who they really are, and you will see what they are . They may call themselves “Jesus” or “Guardian angel” or other names but they are DEMONS, lying malevolent damned spirits that you, though your own free will have invited into your life and the ONLY way to get rid of them will to go to a Priest who has experience in Deliverance Ministry who has the Authority to cast them out. I am giving you this warning In charity, because I know Priests who are Exorcists and full blown Demonic Possession has resulted in people, doing the things you are doing now. Your life will be a train wreck if continue on this path, if you want to wreck you future continue on it.

    • adam aquinas

      Teillard de Chardin was not a heretic…Benedict XVI clearly indicates that de Cardin was the inspiration for the vision of Christianity in Gaudian et Spes

      http://www.traditioninaction.org/ProgressivistDoc/A_034_RatzTeilhard.htm

      He also cites deChardin as describing the cosmos as a living host

      http://ncronline.org/news/pope-cites-teilhardian-vision-cosmos-living-host

      Obviously you do not believe that God assigns us helpers to lead us to behave with love for all people. I am sorry for you and I do forgive your rambling screed … look beyond the nostalgia of the past to the future where the mystery of God continues to reveal…revelation was not complete 1945, nor was evolution. Learn to trust in the ways of God….it will make you more peaceful and less of an angry, judgmental human.