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Religion: history and folklore--Part 2
Salvation Army Brass Band in Bullring
The Salvation Army is one of the most unusual Christian religions that I know of. The most unusual aspect is the quasi-military aspect, in which the leaders wear military uniforms and bear military type titles. They are also well known for their charitable work m and emphasis on abstinence from alcohol, smoking, and illegal drugs.
Street corner bands have been a distinctive feature of the Salvation Army. They play, sing, and preach. Indoor religious services usually follow. Although they get many converts I don’t think most people think of them as a religion. Mostly people think of them as a charity organization and contribute to them, even though they, themselves, are loyal to churches of their own.
The Salvation Army is one of the biggest outreach charities and has thousands of officers, both male and female. They established mobile canteens in World War One and many recreation centers for service members. They helped in the formation of the USO.
Historically a Methodist minister (General) William booth organized the Christian Mission in England to serve the poor in London’s East Side. In 1878 the Mission changed its name to Salvation Army. They now operate in 84 countries. They came to the United States in 1880.
They are a familiar sight, especially with their bell ringers at Christmas time.
I think that one of the most curious religious movements was that of Spiritualism in the 19th Century. What is most curious is that it drew many of the intellectuals of the day. One such was Arthur Conan Doyle, author and physician i.e., a man of science. The student of Dr. Bell who helped establish the science of forensic medicine. Doyle was also the creator of Sherlock Holmes, the observant and logical fictional detective. Another surprising adherent of spiritualism was William James, noted psychologist who had also studied medicine.
The movement started with Kate and Maggie Fox who were two of the movements most successful mediums. The year was 1848. The sisters claimed that a dead peddler haunted their house in Hydesville, New York. The spirit communicated with them with a rapping signal. The sisters claimed a former owner of the house and his body hidden there murdered that peddler. Hundreds of people flocked to Hydesville to see them demonstrate communication with the spirit.
The sisters were sent to live with their older sister, Leah, in Rochester. The rapping noises followed them and the there were more spirits. Leah decided that she could capitalize on her sister’s ability and charged for private sittings. Overnight they became famous as mediums. At Rochester’s Corinthian Hall 400 people paid 25 cents each to witness the spirits communicate.
There were other mediums at the time but the sisters were the most popular. Powerful people supported them. The movement, which believed that at death the physical body was released from the spirit and the spirit remained, spread rapidly.
In 1852 Artic explorer Elisa Kent Kane was at one of their séances. He was attracted to Maggie but knew his family would not find her as a proper wife. He converted her to Catholicism. Unfortunately Kane died in1857 and Maggie turned to alcoholism.
Kate continued on her own and was very successful but the stress and grief over parents deaths led her to alcohol also.
The religion flourished without formal organization, formal tests but relied on periodicals, tours by trance lecturers, camp meetings and activities of accomplished mediums.
Various causes were supported by the followers, such as abolition and women’s suffrage. Thus many prominent women were Spiritualists. There are still various denominational Spiritual churches in the United States and the United Kingdom.
They have many traits in common with Christianity. They do not share the Christian vision of the afterlife however.
The theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg resonated with the Spiritualist. He claimed to communicate directly with spirits. It is interesting that William James’s father was a Swedenborg follower in Theology.