Thursday, October 22, 2009

Elizabeth Oakes-Smith's Interest in Spiritualism

I found Shadow Land; or The Seer saved as a PDF file online and read it in one day. I was eager to look at this book since I've heard that Elizabeth Oakes-Smith was very much in tune with her dream-life, and it drove much of her writing. It is my opinion that dreams reflect the imagination, and the subconscious is where God is able to influence us. I have had some very memorable dreams, that were proof to me of God's active presence in my life. So being a religious person, I am open and interested in the possibility of forces existing beyond our senses.

An interest in spiritualism was more prominent among affluent women than men in the 19th century. Some people followed these ideas with religious devotion, while others explored the "ism" as a result of a natural curiosity of the unexplainable. Elizabeth Oakes-Smith was interested in the subject. Her short novel, Shadow Land; or The Seer, documents her dream-life and makes a case for artists in support of the unknown. The author quotes Shelley, Byron, Milton, Shakespeare, Poe, and other writers, showing how Anglo-American Spiritualism developed as a result of beliefs in other parts of the world. She goes on to make a case supporting the thought that dreams and astrology influenced the writings of the classic poets.

EOS expresses an openness to the idea of a spirit world, admitting that while she has never seen a ghost, anyone who believes in the soul is apt to be willing to consider that realm. The author argues that people should not fear thinking about the spirit-life because that would be denying a whole part of one's self. Her opinion is that the existence and influence of our thoughts prove the existence of our spirits. There is a chapter recounting tales of souls in a sort of limbo, with a restless desire for tangibility. These become the "rappers," that roam the Earth indefinitely. I had to laugh to myself while reading this line, because my modern brain pictured deceased Rap Artists. She means spirits that are not with God, who cause unexplainable noises and the disappearance of objects.

"The "rappers" have a restless desire for tangibility, and are perpetually trying to command material objects in a way to make themselves known." (18)

While Oakes-Smith recounts plenty of ghostly tales that have been told to her, she has nothing original to offer the reader from her own experience, which strengthens skepticism against her belief in restless souls.

I have always been keenly interested in cycles, and so I was more intrigued by the dream-life of the author. I'm fascinated by the boomerang effect of energy, and how cycles in nature mirror patterns in human life.

To me, the extreme complexity of the universe, and how it seems to be orchestrated, is proof of the existence of God. If there is such a vast realm of knowledge that is beyond human understanding, it confuses me that some people would be satisfied to chalk up to coincidence many of the amazing occurrences of everyday life. As Einstein points out:

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

Oakes-Smith claims that her dream-life is vivid, lively and vast, a "peopled place" with beautiful landscapes. As a child her dreams are so pleasant that she does not wish to leave them. According to the author, this unconscious time is when the body rests and the soul is free to wander.

"The spirit needs no sleep; what death is to the body, sleep would be to the soul." (13)

Taking the advice of Socrates, Elizabeth Oakes-Smith allows her dreams to guide her waking actions and help her in a "pursuit of wisdom." She dreams of following a narrow road overgrown with weeds while many others are heard "laughing and joyful" on the other path. Often a man is guiding her by the hand and encouraging her to move forward down the uninviting trail during this reoccurring dream. She senses that the figure in her dream is her father, a mariner who drowned when Oakes-Smith was three years old. She writes:

"Again, Socrates said, 'all my life I have had dreams, which recommended the same things to me, sometimes in one way, sometimes in another.' "

The author expresses an interest in astrology, upholding ancient astronomers' idea that "God governs the stars and the stars govern men" by admitting the accuracy of her own astrological profile. She recounts dreams that have answered religious questions for her regarding prayer and the existence of heaven or hell. She speaks of mystical experiences related to fainting, swooning, and brain injuries, and those who do not dream at all. While some aspects of the "trauma dream" can be explained scientifically, there is still enough power in these inner experiences to change a life.

Her interest in human energy and the power of thought really grabs my attention. She suggests that thoughts have energy and power. This idea reminds me of the recent best-seller, The Secret. This modern book reiterates the idea written in Shadow Land that the energy you put out into the universe, be it positive or negative, is what is returned to you.

"There is, in truth, a mere enlarged philosophy in supposing that all matter repels and attracts; that the most distant planet held in its sphere, by kindred stars, must feel in its pulse the slightest change of balance; and if matter thus sympathizes with matter, that unrealized portion subject to our own organization must sympathize also." (105)

While she does express a marked belief in the accuracy of her own horoscope, Elizabeth Oakes-Smith makes a distinction in this work between superstitions and looking to dreams for guidance. After giving a brief history of superstitions around the world, she implies that these practices are born from simple minds, (while admitting to holding on to a few herself, being affected by an Irish live-in servant named Mary).

"Heaven bless the Irish; their faith is after my own heart. Nothing is without significancy to them, " she writes. (93)

Like many modern sports figures, Elizabeth Oakes-Smith has superstitions connected with her talent. She recounts a conversation with Mary:
"Mary, Good Mary, leave the chair in the same spot."

"Ah, Madam, it would look so much prettier by the window, make the room look so much better."

"Yes, Mary, but I have written there these three whole days." (94)

Interestingly, Oakes-Smith goes on to list the superstitions of "good Mary" that the Smith family succumbed to during their various moves from one home to another. They left brooms and even a family cat named Grimalkin behind for the next owners to avoid bad luck.

On the whole I found this old manuscript to be fascinating. Published in 1852, Shadow Land; or The Seer gives readers a window into the imagination of Elizabeth Oakes-Smith. You can read it too at:

For more info on EOS try:
Elizabeth Oakes (Prince) Smith Totally Explained


Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Fascinating! You might enjoy the adult fantasy novels written by C.S. Lewis : Phantastes and Lilith. The characters in both spend a great deal of the novel dreaming and discovering great truths in the process.

Loren Christie said...

That does sound interesting!

Putz said...

let me tell you about my recent dream of spirits....while garth monsen was alive i was always in a marriage line reception line with him and the line would move slowly because he would have to recount life with everyone....wel;l he dream was this...he is now godly , saintly ,god's confidant up in the celestial kindom...god gave him a priestly assingment and said look around and pick someone to do this assignment with you....he said i want shirley....well shirley monsen lives three blocks from me on earth down by the elementary school...he said,' she is the only one that will do for this mission' shirley died, really loren she died and i am sure it was beacause god wanted them working toether...i told her living daughtwer that and she said althoough she had no DREAM, she felt the same way i did or the putz

Loren Christie said...

Hi Mr. Putz, I agree with you that God gives great assignments to the good souls with Him. Thank you for sharing your dream here.

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Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


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