to Modern Spiritualism:
Jackson Davis (1826-1910)
Davis is often referred to as the John the Baptist of
Modern Spiritualism; for it was he who firmly set into place and definitively
proclaimed the coming revelation of Spirit communion.
Andrew Jackson Davis grew up in poverty.
He was born at Blooming Grove, a small hamlet along the Hudson
River, in New York State. His mother was a simple, uneducated
woman, and his father, between binges of drunkenness, earned a
scanty living as a weaver and a shoemaker.
Young Davis showed signs of clairvoyance and heard voices very
early in life and, on the advice given from Spirit, he convinced
his father to move to Poughkeepsie in 1838. In 1843, a Dr. J.
S. Grimes visited the city and gave a series of lectures on mesmerism
(hypnosis). With Davis's curiosity getting the better of him,
he attended one of the lectures and was tested as a subject, with
no results. Later, a local tailor named William Levingston helped
induce upon Davis a state of mesmeric trance and found that in
this altered state of consciousness, he (Davis) could accurately
diagnose medical disorders. In this condition, Davis described
how the human body became transparent to his spirit eyes; this
seemed to come from the center of the forehead. Each organ stood
out clearly with a special luminosity of its own which greatly
diminished in cases of disease.
In 1844, Andrew Jackson Davis had an experience which was to change
the course of his life. On the evening of March 6th, Davis was
suddenly overcome by some power which led him to "fly" from Poughkeepsie,
where he lived, and hurry off in a semi-trance state, upon a rapid
journey. Upon gaining full consciousness the next morning, he
found himself amidst the Catskill Mountains, some 40 miles away.
Here, he claims to have met two very distinguished men, whom he
later identified as the philosopher Galen and the Swedish seer
Emanuel Swedenborg, both of whom were, of course, dead. He also
claimed to have experienced a great mental illumination and revelation.
Now, it is very difficult to ascertain exactly what happened to
Davis during this evening: was the experience a vision; was it
an actual levitation and/or transportation to the Catskill Mountains;
or did he really walk 40 miles in the trance condition? Regardless
of what actually happened, the effect upon Davis was tremendous.
From that time onward, he traveled extensively, giving public
lectures and teachings. In the course of a teaching tour, Davis
met Dr. Lyons and Rev. Fishbough. Dr. Lyons was a qualified mesmerist
and often induced the trance state upon Davis. During these episodes,
a wealth of material came through, all of which was transcribed
by Rev. Fishbough. In November, 1845, Davis began dictating his
great work, The Principles of Nature: Her Divine Revelations
and A Voice To Mankind. The dictation lasted for 15 months,
with many enthusiastic people bearing witness to these trance
Nandor Fodor, in his Encyclopedia of Psychic Science,
writes of one of these witnesses:
George Bush, Professor of Hebrew at the University of New York,
declared that he heard Davis correctly quote Hebrew. The seer's
good faith was also established by his answers to impromptu
questions put to him as tests while he was in the clairvoyant
state. Professor Bush summed up his opinion thus: 'Taken as
a whole the work is a profound and elaborate discussion of the
philosophy of the universe, and for grandeur of conception,
soundness of principle, clearness of illustration, order of
arrangement and encyclopedic range of subjects, I know no work
of any single mind that will bear away from it the palm.' It
was partly due to Bush's enthusiasm that the book, published
in 1847, met with eager interest. Within a few weeks of its
appearance, however, Professor Bush published a small pamphlet,
Davis's Revelations Revealed, in which he solemnly warned the
public against being misled by the numerous errors, absurdities
and falsities contained in that work. It was clear to him, he
said, that Davis, although himself apparently an honest and
single-hearted young man, had been made the mouthpiece of uninstructed
and deceiving spirits ..... The book attained 34 editions in
less than 30 years which alone proved the appeal of the style
and the qualities of this stupendous work."
The book opens with the following:
the beginning the Univercoelumm was one boundless, indefinable,
and unimaginable ocean of Liquid Fire. The most vigorous and
ambitious imagination is not capable of forming an adequate
conception of the height and depth and length and breadth thereof.
There was one vast expanse of liquid substance. It was without
bounds - inconceivable - and with qualities and essences incomprehensible.
This was the original condition of Matter. It was without forms,
for it was but one Form. It had no motions, but it was an eternity
of Motion. It was without parts, for it was a Whole. Particles
did not exist, but the Whole was as one Particle. There were
not suns, but it was one eternal Sun. It had no beginning and
it was without end. It had not length, for it was a Vortex of
one Eternity. It had not circles, for it was one infinite Circle.
It had not disconnected power, but it was the very essence of
all Power. Its inconceivable magnitude and constitution were
such as not to develop forces, but Omnipotent Power.
and Power were existing as a Whole, inseparable. The Matter
contained the substance to produce all suns, all worlds, and
systems of worlds, throughout the immensity of Space. It contained
the qualities to produce all things that are existing upon each
of those worlds. The Power contained Wisdom, and Goodness, Justice,
Mercy and Truth. It contained the original and essential Principle
that is displayed throughout immensity of Space, controlling
worlds and systems of worlds, and producing Motion, Life, Sensation
and Intelligence, to be impartially disseminated upon their
surfaces as ultimates."
One can see clearly from this passage that much of the teaching
that was given through Andrew Jackson Davis is similar in style
and content to that of Emanuel Swedenborg; yet Davis was not at
all an educated person during his earlier years. It is this fact,
we feel, which makes the revelations of Davis so very interesting.
Here we have two seers, Emanuel Swedenborg and Andrew Jackson
Davis. Each came from totally different social, economic and educational
backgrounds, yet both were channels for some of the most profound
and esoteric philosophies and teachings to come out of the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries.
Davis's prediction of the movement of Modern Spiritualism was
given in his Principles of Nature, first published
in 1847. In it he wrote:
is a truth that spirits commune with one another while one is
in the body and the other in the higher spheres - and this,
too, when the person in the body is unconscious of the influx,
and hence cannot be convinced of the fact; and this truth will
ere long present itself in the form of a living demonstration.
And the world will hail with delight the ushering in of that
era when the interiors of men will be opened, and the spiritual
communion will be established."
Finally, on March 31, 1848, in his diary, Andrew Jackson Davis
recorded the following:
daylight this morning a warm breathing passed over my face and
I heard a voice, tender and strong, saying, 'Brother, the good
work has begun - behold, a living demonstration is born.' I
was left wondering what could be meant by such a message."
At that very moment, not too far away, in Hydesville, New York,
the events which literally shook the world into looking at the
very real possibility of communicating with those in Spirit were
taking place. Indeed, the good work had begun.
The contributions made by Andrew Jackson Davis to the cause of
Spiritualism simply cannot be enumerated. This simple, uneducated
man, through whom so very much was given, should be noted as the
prime forerunner to Modern Spiritualism. From 1845 to 1885, he
wrote over 30 books dealing on subjects from cosmological philosophy
and dissertation, to health, to a descriptive analysis of the
In the latter years of his life, having finally acquired a medical
degree, Andrew Jackson Davis retired to Boston, where he opened
a small book shop. There he sold books and prescribed herbal remedies
to his patients.
We are very proud to say that Marcellus S.
Ayer, founder of the First Spiritual Temple, was a dear friend
of Andrew Jackson Davis. As Honorary Treasurer, Mr. Ayer served
with Davis on a committee established to help promulgate the work
of Professor Joseph Rodes Buchanan, pioneer
researcher in psychometry.
Article in Series: Forerunners to Modern Spiritualism: Hydesville
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