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Current Update as of July 05, 2003

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The Spirit World


Atlantic University, 2000

Advisor: Douglas G. Richards, Ph.D.

Spiritualists View the Spirit World

I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI

Spiritualism as a religion was at the peak of its popularity in the late 1800s and early 1900s, primarily because mediumship was providing answers to questions about life after death. This study explores the beliefs of the Spiritualists in that time period, and provides their answers to what the spirit world is, how it operates, and how it looks. Early Spiritualists believed the spirit world is divided into various levels and spheres, and each sphere is different, depending on one’s spiritual development and growth. Specifics of physical surroundings, homes, clothing, food, relationships, occupations, education, and religion are discussed.

The information comes primarily from mediums who were communicating with those in the spirit world. Descriptions were often different because not all mediums, nor those with whom they were communicating, interpreted information in the same way. However, there is general agreement on what the spirit world looks like and how it operates.

Copyrightę by Barbara N. Starr, 2000. All rights reserved


I gratefully acknowledge the help and advice of Douglas G. Richards, Ph.D., the chairperson of my committee. He gave me prompt feedback and encouragement throughout the process. Henry Reed, Ph.D., also responded immediately and I appreciate his taking the time to read and comment on my thesis. Rev. B. Anne Gehman was particularly helpful in suggesting source material, and graciously allowed me the use of her private library for my research.



Who are we? Why are we here? What happens when we die? Is there life after death? If so, what is that like? These are perennial questions asked by many, and there are many answers. The question of the continuity of life, or the survival of the personality, is studied by philosophers, teachers, scientists, religious leaders, and people in every walk of life.

In the late 1800s, many people felt they had the answer to this question, and that they had experienced proof of the existence of the personality after death. Spiritualism was at its peak of popularity, and mediumship was providing answers to questions about life after death. This study will explore the beliefs of the Spiritualists in that time period, and provide their answers to what the spirit world is, how it operates, and how it looks. Questions like the following will be answered. Where do we go after the physical body dies? What are our initial experiences like? Where do we live? Do we eat? What kind of clothing do we wear? Do we see people we know? What do we do? What happens to children when they die? What about pets? How does the landscape appear?

The early Spiritualists had answers to all these questions, obtained through mediumship. Some information came from deceased loved ones through a medium to relatives and friends. More detailed descriptions came through from Spiritualists after they passed "through the veil." Sometimes questions were put by researchers to a medium who received answers from sources in the spirit world. Naturally, some information is contradictory. For example, one source may say that food is not necessary; another will say that only fruit is eaten. Reports often vary with the personality that is communicating. This study will consolidate these descriptions, and give a picture of Summerland, or the spirit world, as it appeared to Spiritualists in the late 1800s.

Major religions believe in some form of life after death. Spiritualism carries this one step further, by saying that life after death is a fact, proven by mediumship, or communication with those in the spirit world. As a Spiritualist, I believe that is indeed possible to communicate with those whose physical bodies have died. The personality and soul live on, and sometimes those in spirit can get in touch with those who are still living on the earth plane. Not only have I had experiences myself, I have had contact with many others who have had similar events happen. My reading about evidence for life after death, and that we do indeed live on, has been extensive. There are many anecdotal accounts, and studies undertaken in a scientific manner. This paper is based on my assumption that we do live after death, and there is a spirit world.

Mediumship, or spirit communication, is not always accurate. A good medium is probably right about 70% of the time. Some have an accuracy rate that is closer to 90%; others are often just lucky, and may rely on psychic ability or the reactions of the person they are working with.

There are many factors at work here. The spirit may be new at communicating, and have trouble getting through. He or she may only know what they are experiencing at the time; just because one has died does not make him all knowing. The medium may have his or her own biases, or may not have the words to accurately communicate what the spirit is describing. The medium may simply be tired that day. This study points this out in many instances. There is agreement in general, but specific details of life in the spirit world are often different.

There is a parallel with the study of near death experiences. There are a number of common factors in this kind of experience, but not everyone has them all, and the details vary. The reasons for this are unknown, but in my opinion we all bring our own knowledge, biases, and experiences to what happens. Mediumship is no different.

There is a wide range of perspectives on the issue of spirit communication. At one end are those who believe that there is no God, or creative force, and that when you die, that is the end of everything. At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that life indeed does go on, in another form, and that it is possible to communicate between the physical and spiritual worlds. Some believe that when the physical body dies, you wait in some form until you are called forth by God, or what is called Judgment Day. Religious beliefs about life after death vary greatly, and could be the subject of another paper.

My purpose is not to convince anyone that there is a spirit world, and that we can communicate with those who are there. It is simply to describe what that spirit world may look like, based on the spirit communications of the writers that lived at the time that Spiritualism was at its height in the late 1800s.


Medium - "One whose organism is sensitive to vibrations from the spirit world and through whose instrumentality, intelligences in that world are able to convey messages and produce the phenomena of Spiritualism" (National Spiritualist Association of Churches, 1991, p. 40).

A medium is one who communicates with entities in the spirit world. As explained by Freepsychics.com, a psychic is not necessarily a medium, but a medium typically  channels psychic traits.

Spirit world - The term used by Spiritualists for the dwelling place for those who have died, or left their physical bodies.

Spiritualism - "The science, philosophy and religion of continuous life, based upon the demonstrated fact of communication, by means of mediumship, with those who live in the spirit world" (NSAC, 1991, p.40).

Spiritualist - "One who believes, as the basis of his or her religion, in the communication between this and the spirit world by means of mediumship and who endeavors to mold his or her character in accordance with the highest teachings derived from such communication" (NSAC, 1991, p. 40).

Summerland - A term coined by Andrew Jackson Davis and used by Spiritualists as another word for the spirit world.


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