Spiritualists and Magicians: Outrage, Appropriation and the Birth of a Performance Genre

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


From its roots with the Fox Sisters, spiritualism has attracted both believers and skeptics alike, eager to prove or to disprove the phenomenon of spirit contact. Many from both sides were quick to realise the money-making potential of this new [performance] form. This put many magicians in an interesting quandary; many were angered when they saw their closely guarded methods being used to apparently contact the dead, and equally many were angered because they didn’t think of it first.

Not to be outdone, and always on the lookout for cheap publicity, many magicians legitimised their revealing of methods (the greatest taboo in magic circles) by exposing many mediums as fraudulent in the name of science. In turn, they would demonstrate in their shows that they could also make spirit contact through secular (but hidden) methods i.e. conjuring. However, the magician was no longer making real magic, and the conjurer’s transformation into the secular gentleman magician (later codified by Professor Hoffmann) was secured.

This paper will examine the nexus of relations demonstrating; how fraudulent mediums developed and appropriated new methods to perform spirit contact; and how magicians sought to expose these methods, but also appropriate this thinking into modern, secular magic.
Period31 May 2019
Event titleScience and Spiritualism 1750 – 1930
Event typeConference
LocationLeeds, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational