Spiritualism has always been around in different cultures for as far back as we can go in time. However modern spiritualism did not gain popularity in the US until the late 1800s. Beginning with Fox sisters in New York in 1848, “mediums” would hold seances to commune with the dead. Many of these mediums were exposed as charlatans who had rigged the rooms where they held seances to do tricks and make it look like ghosts had done it. Towards the end of the 1920s, spiritualism had lost it's momentum and started to lose popularity. Religions involving magic disappeared for several decades into the background but recently they have begun to gain popularity again.
Spiritualism has many definitions and many histories. One general way of describing its many manifestations is to focus on the idea of a continuous life, based upon the demonstrated fact of communication, by means of mediumship, with those who live in the spirit world. Even this definition leaves a lot of room for confusion, however, as many religious traditions that do not identify as Spiritualist also teach of life beyond present mortality.
This idea of the continued life of the spirit is as ancient as it is pervasive. The Greeks consulted oracles and the Assyrians and Romans practiced divination by augury to obtain guidance from the gods. Even today some cultures have their so-called "witch doctors," who invoke the powers of the spirit for healing. Modern Spiritualism in the United States is dated back to the events that occurred in New York on March 13, 1848. Two sisters, Maggie and Cate Fox, began to hear mysterious noises after they moved into their new house and so they started clapping their hands and snapping their fingers in an effort to elicit the knocking noises. A series of noises then responded to their clapping and finger snapping. News of the "rappings" took flight and soon they sisters became national celebrities. Spiritualism spread quickly through the actions of mass media and led to a explosion in spiritualist activity in the United States.
By the early twentieth century, there were Spiritualist churches and societies in St. Louis. This history finds a contemporary descendent in Pathways. The founder of the original Pathways store is Rev. Deborah Ann Bourbon, who, after her passing into spirit is still very chatty (as the current owner of the store, Melina, says) and often visits the store from the beyond. The rich variety of workers in this store host many events throughout the year, including free gatherings (often it is encouraged that attendees bring a canned food donation) and paid services like divination readings and crystal chargings. Melina herself also provides ministerial duties, like presiding over marriages, burials, and other rituals.
Pathways carries a multitude of items for sale which supply multifaith followers with ritual tools, charms, and physical constructs as well as spiritual ones.
Smudging is a technique that can be utilized by anyone, but is most commonly used in Native American rituals. This involves lighting a bundle of sacred herbs, and then putting out the flame so that only smoke is emitted. The smoke is then fanned in the direction of a person or place with the use of a large turkey feather in order to clear out negative energy.
Crushed up herbs and roots are generally used to put into charms, but they can also be used for tea and incense. Pathways makes it clear to buyers of the importance of research on the individual’s end into the botanicals they may purchase and utilize. The store also has lengthy charts and information sheets about all the herbs and their possible side effects.
In an interview for the Arch City Religion project, Pathways owner, Melina, mentioned the importance of acquiring authentic Native American items to sell, as such an item that is not made by Native Americans is sacrilegious. [There is a long history within modern Spiritualism, which has historically been of greatest influence among middle class white Americans, of taking Native American artifacts and rituals out of context for purposes at odds with their indigenous uses and meanings.--RML]
Melina also mentioned how the use of tarot cards does not necessarily "belong" to any particular belief system. Many different people use tarot cards in a spectrum of different ways. Yet one thing remains for certain: like dowsing rods and crystal balls, tarot cards are a divination tool, no matter the circumstance they are used in.
As it operates in her store, Melina does not define Spiritualism as the umbrella term many assume it to be. For her, Spiritualism is an individual belief system that states there is truth in all religions. She explains that while Spiritualism is closer to paganism than any other belief system, the true umbrella term for the multitude of religions which Pathways caters to would simply be titled: Multifaith.
Researched and written by Edin Mehmedovic, Diva Norton, and AJ Olvey.