For many, the word “Gothic” conjures up visions of cadaverous beauties with ebony fingernails or ghoulish music tinged with melancholy.
The Gothic is much more and lives beyond perception, in irony, in fragments of dreams, nightmares, and distant memories. It knows what you truly desire, and those things that you whisper in the darkest of shadows.
The Gothic is everywhere and is part of us from birth to death. Old ladies with skin like parchment, whispering behind fans in an overheated Southern church, are Gothic. Mansions with gables, cupulas, abandoned swimming pools, faded family images, a crucifix with candles illuminating a darkened room, Budapest, the Bayou, and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, anywhere Spanish moss drapes over dying trees and night blooming jasmine perfumes the evening air are quintessential Gothic.
The silence of a graveyard, rosaries, painted dolls, lace fans, wrought iron candelabras, and Victorian jewelry woven from the hair of the dearly departed are as Gothic as absinthe, elderberry wine, rosehips, and tea laced with arsenic. An ancient Bible, crepe used in mourning, or an afterbirth, preserved and passed down for generations, are touchable Gothic. Bandeleon music accompanying a couple dancing a passionate tango is Gothic, Argentine style. The Gothic encompasses all that is macabre, bizarre and curious. It lurks the shadows, in those moments when something flickers in your peripheral vision on the edge of a mirror or whispers to you in the night.
Thanks to literature, movies, and perhaps even actual experience, most people are familiar with the paranormal activities involved in seances. However, the history behind spirit communication through the body of a mortal medium isn't commonly known, and it's probably not a subject your high school history teacher ever mentioned. If you dig deep enough, you'll find enthralling tales of empowered women, skillful tricksters, and one enraged magician.
What does the history of mediums have to do with empowered females? For starters, the origins of modern seances and spiritualism can be traced to two young girls in Hydesville, New York: Catherine and Margaretta Fox, who in 1848 were aged 11 and 13, respectively. In March of that year, the girls claimed to hear spirit raps emanating from their bedroom, which quickly drew the interest of their parents and, soon after, several neighbors. By May, droves of curious onlookers made pilgrimages to the Hydesville home to witness signs of spirit activity, and within five years close to 30,000 Americans claimed to possess mediumistic powers.
In the wake of the Fox sisters' fame, other notable mediums emerged: Cora L. V. Richmond, who conducted lectures on women's rights while in trances, winning over male skeptics with her virginal beauty. Victoria Claflin Woodhull, who not only demonstrated mediumistic abilities, but also gained fame as the first female to run for president of the United States in 1872. Eusapia Palladino, an Italian-born woman known in the 1890s for her unabashed sexuality and boldness during her seances. Male mediums also appeared in sizable numbers, but, for nineteenth-century women, spiritual powers meant a doorway to fame and adventure…and an escape from the mundanity of domestic lives with few personal rights. Channeling spirits gave women a chance to speak words and ideas not normally permitted to a lady. Because of the thousands of converts to this religion you could see, hear, and touch, people avidly listened to what these females had to say.
But spiritual powers often weren't the actual cause of the phenomena produced at seances. Fraud abounded, and theatrical tricks and sleights of hand successfully convinced sitters they were seeing and hearing spirits in darkened rooms, especially in times of war and hardships when seance guests so desperately wanted to receive proof of an afterlife. A mail-order catalog of the late 1800s even provided customers with seance necessities such as fake hands and rigged spirit slates, going so far as to offer instructions on how to produce tilting tables, sounds from seemingly nowhere, and thought transmission. Mediums often corroborated with one another, circulating secret "Blue Books" that contained information about the local deceased and seance attendees who were the easiest targets. Even the Fox sisters reportedly confessed their fakery forty years after their glorious start in Hydesville, stating that their famous raps that founded a religious movement were produced merely by cracking their toe joints.
To prove they weren't frauds, many mediums underwent test conditions, letting skeptics bind them with ropes and handcuffs and lock them in sealed "spirit cabinets," demonstrating that paranormal activity would still appear despite such restraints. Magicians soon showcased the same feats as entertainment, claiming the mediums' so-called test conditions were simply another example of seance trickery.
In the 1920s, legendary escape artist Harry Houdini embarked upon a zealous crusade to expose crooked mediums. In his younger years, he himself had earned money through fake seances, but he became one of the loudest voices against spiritualism when the death of his mother led him on a fruitless search for a genuine medium. He grew famous for his exposes of spiritual con artists and even traveled to seances in disguise, revealing himself to unsuspecting hoodwinkers when they produced evidence of fraud.
Houdini's most controversial attempt at unveiling a scam came in 1924, when he joined a committee to judge mediums vying for a prize offered by SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN magazine. The first medium who could produce authentic paranormal phenomena would win $2,500, and the most likely candidate was Boston medium Mina Crandon, known in her spirit circles as "Margery." Like her predecessors, Margery too gained female empowerment through her séances. Formerly the bored wife of a prominent surgeon twenty years her senior, she suddenly created glamorous social events via her sittings and spoke through the voice of a witty, often-vulgar "spirit control": her dead brother Walter.
The highly publicized investigations of Margery often kept Houdini from concentrating on other aspects of his career. Plus, they directed attention away from other mediums around the world--ones who might have proven to be more legitimate than Margery, who was ultimately denied the prize due to too many indications of fraud. Nevertheless, Margery went to her deathbed refusing to confess she was a sham. After his own death, Houdini failed to return to the world of the living through seances, as he told his wife he would try to do if spiritualism were indeed genuine. To this date, seances are still held every year in an attempt to contact Houdini on the anniversary of his death, which just happens to be Halloween.
The post-Margery and Houdini eras have been quieter in terms of famous mediums and widespread booms in seances. Yet as long as people strive to find proof of an afterlife, this intriguing aspect of modern history will probably never fade. Moreover, seances will undoubtedly live on as long as literature and films continue to dive into haunting stories of ghostly visitors from the other side…even though spiritualism is a case where truth is often stranger than fiction.This is a long form text area designed for your content that you can fill up with as many words as your heart desires. You can write articles, long mission statements, company policies, executive profiles, company awards/distinctions, office locations, shareholder reports, whitepapers, media mentions and other pieces of content that don’t fit into a shorter, more succinct space.
First, a word or two about absinthe. Is it illegal? No, at least not in the form you're likely to find it. The "active" ingredient (other than alcohol) is classified in the United States as a "controlled substance" but only in higher quantities than are generally available. So, what is the stuff, specifically? Absinthe is classified as a "spirit", a distilled alcoholic beverage not bottled with added sugar (which would make it a liqueur and belongs roughly in the same category as scotch. Derived from wormwood, absinthe typically has a very high "proof", anywhere from 45 to 75 percent. Is that why it has such a reputation? Only partially. The herbal concoctions used to make absinthe (and there are many recipes) include natural stimulants as well as natural sedatives. Combined, the effect is interesting. Rather than slovenly drunkenness, one experiences a kind of heightened awareness. In other words, absinthe was the Victorian equivalent of acid. Of course, regulations in those days regarding food purity were lax at best. A bottle purchased in 1890, for example, might well contain cocaine.
Temperance leaders made a lot about the mystique of absinthe. One story from Switzerland made the rounds around the turn of the twentieth century involving a day laborer. Details vary but the essence goes something like this; the day laborer got up one day and drank a bottle of wine with breakfast. At work, he drank another bottle of wine, had some beers with lunch, yet another bottle of wine then headed to the local pub with friends. Some brandy, more beer and more wine were capped off with one glass of absinthe. He then went home and murdered his family with an ax.
People looked at these events, made the logical deduction and blamed the absinthe. Over time they managed to get absinthe banned, the first victory in the war for Prohibition. Honestly, they had a point. In the 1800s, everyone knew drinking water was often dangerous (and they were right). Most folks quenched their thirst with gin, with little or no awareness of what we today call alcoholism. What followed Prohibition's enactment--the upsurge of organized crime, rampant corruption, machine gun massacres--might be viewed as an example of how linear thinking doesn't always work. One is tempted to suggest the leaders of the Temperance Movement might have enjoyed greater long-term success by drinking some absinthe and considered the problem from a state of altered consciousness.
Ritual surrounds absinthe, almost as if the drinking of it were an act of the occult. They used to say that a green fairy lived in the absinthe, and that to drink it was to let such a creature into your very soul. Take a glass, ideally, one designed specifically for the experience. A somewhat tall brandy glass will work. Pour a finger or two of absinthe into said glass. Now, place the absinthe spoon atop your glass. If you don't have one, a carefully balanced fork will do. However, a Spork will not. Place at least one (or two, or even three--it depends on taste) cubes of sugar upon your fork or spoon. Now pour ice water over the sugar into the glass. Not all at once, it takes time. As the sugar dissolves, the drink changes color and green turns into a milky white. The name for this is the "leche." (There are other color absinthes, including red.) You'll find it tastes something like anise, or maybe licorice. Personally, what I look for in a glass of absinthe is "smoothness."
For the record, you can prepare it other ways. In Bar Sinister, a "goth" bar in Hollywood, they'll put ice and absinthe and sugar cubes in a shot glass then shake it like a martini. They also will mix it with fruit juices (try the "red fairy" if you go--it is delicious). But don't do what Johnny Depp did in From Hell. Putting an open flame near high-proof alcohol is not a good idea. Quite apart from the fact, burned sugar tastes nasty, the alcoholic content gets burned away.
Now drink and enjoy.