The Salem witchcraft, The planchette mystery, and Modern spiritualism

March 13, 2013

Some time ago I worked on a few pages of  The Salem witchcraft, The planchette mystery, and Modern spiritualism, a collection of articles reprinted by the Phrenological Journal.

It got me intrigued, so when I was notified the other week that it was available for smooth reading, I downloaded it.

The book contains three articles, as indicated in the title. The first article: The Salem Witchcraft, was what got me so intrigued back then. I had heard of the Salem witches, but never actually knew what happened there, so this was my chance to find out.

The article is a review of the work of Charles W. Upham. I think it is adequate to say that it is a summary of his work, although I am not (yet) familiar with his books.

The article neatly describes what happened in Salem in the 17th Century, tries to explain how and why things took the dreadful course they took. If you are curious to get the whole picture, you are in luck, because you can find Upham’s work on Project Gutenberg, too:

Salem witchcraft; with an account of Salem village and a history of opinions on witchcraft and kindred subjects. Volume 1 and 2


Salem Witchcraft and Cotton Mather

But back to the article: it certainly gives you a very good idea of the people, the circumstances and the goings on in Salem and surrounding areas. You can use it as an introduction to the Upham books, or as a good overview if you don’t have the time or inclination to go into too much detail. It certainly left me counting my lucky stars that I didn’t live there and then.

The Planchette

The planchette mystery had me in stitches. It was a welcome distraction after the Salem horrors.

The author tries to lift the mystery of the Planchette. If, like me, you don’t know what a Planchette is, you’ll be a lot wiser by the end of the article. I got to know where it got its name, what it does, even how to use it.

The author of the articles goes to great lengths to show the flaws in theories which don’t fit his conviction, demanding proof of them, while at the same time failing to give a single proof himself.

However, he lists lots of examples of the wondrous results when using a planchette. It must indeed be a tiny miracle. You can have a nearly philosophical discussion with it, and it will answer you (well, it answered the author) in intelligible sentences up to 300 words of length. Go figure. I want a planchette now.

The article about Modern Spiritualism, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe of  Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame, rounds the book off. Mrs Beecher Stowe is a devout Christian and as such has a word or two to say about spiritualism. She laments that the churches don’t go back to their roots and have no comfort to offer, thus involuntarily helping bereft people to search solace in spiritualism. She compares the beliefs and traditions of the primitive Christians of the beginning of Christianity with the Christians of the (her) present day and shows how spiritualism wouldn’t stand a chance if only people still knew that there were angels, Satan and miracles, as Jesus and the Apostles knew. Nobody would ever have to lament a beloved one who died because … but read for yourself.

At first, I thought it was an odd compilation of articles, but on second thoughts I realised the ingenuity of it.

You have one example for the horrors caused by overzealous Christians; one example glorifying phrenology and mesmerism, and one condemning spiritualism and promoting Christianity. All of the phenomena discussed in the book above have one common denominator:

They have no proof.

Join the Smooothathon!

October 1, 2012

It is 12 years today since Distributed Proofreaders started producing quality e-books. During this time more than 23,500 e-books were sent off to Project Gutenberg for the world to read. This calls for some celebration—and what would be a better way to celebrate than to read the books we produce? This is what the Smooothathon is all about. Smooothathon is short for Smooth Reading Marathon—the extra “o” is for the extra smoothness. Like a marathon, it is a challenge—not an individual challenge, but a community challenge: to collectively read as many books as possible. So, like the famous runner in ancient Greece who ran 42 kilometers from Marathon to Athens, the Smooothathon will run for 42 days, from the first of October till November the eleventh, inclusive. This means we are going to read for 42 days!

“How can I take part in the Smooothathon?” you ask? Well, that is easy: Just grab a book from the Smooth Reading Pool and read away. You can read any way you like—on your computer screen, on your e-reader or tablet, or printed on paper. You can read while relaxing with some tea or a cup of hot chocolate, while sitting in the sun on the last warm days of fall or the first warm days of spring—any way you like, any way you enjoy, since enjoyment is what it should be.

Books galore

Lots of books to choose from  by heipei (contact)

There surely are some interesting or fun books to read for you too. Usually there are about 60 to 70 books in the Smooth Reading Pool, covering a wide range of genres, from fiction to poetry to non-fiction, as well as a variety of languages. And new books are being added every day!

This sounds like fun but you are not a member of Distributed Proofreaders? You can join the Smooothathon as well—anyone can read the books in the Smooth Reading Pool. However, if you register with Distributed Proofreaders, you can tell us more easily which books you have read and take part in the Smooothathon discussion on the forum. And you can inform us of any possible errors you find in the books to get them fixed before they are posted to Project Gutenberg. (The Smooth Reading FAQ explains how this is done.)

So grab a book to join the fun, and enjoy the Smooothathon!

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