Dexter, George T., M.D. (19th century): Pioneering Physical Medium
Like many other educated people, Dr. George T. Dexter, a New York physician, resisted the phenomena of Spiritualism which had begun with the so-called “Rochester Knockings” in 1848. “I was positively opposed to it, and regarded the whole matter as either a foolish delusion or an absolute, outrageous deception,” Dexter explained in Spiritualism, an 1853 book co-authored with Judge John W. Edmonds of the New York Supreme Court.
However, Dexter was open-minded enough to investigate. During September 1851, he invited one of the better known mediums of the area to his house. “For the first time, I heard the peculiar sounds called spirit-raps,” Dexter wrote. “I was not satisfied with the results of the sitting, though many mental questions were propounded and answered correctly.”
Another sitting with the same medium was arranged for the following day. After the sitting began, Dexter’s nine-year-old daughter was suddenly seized by some unknown force, her arms flailing in all directions. “Her hand was made to write legibly and in bold, large letters, not in the least resembling her ordinary handwriting, full answers to all our questions, both mental and oral,” Dexter related. “And what was yet more remarkable, she wrote rapidly and easily, and the style of the composition and the spelling far excelled what we know was the character of her original attempts at composition, or her spelling, previous to this time.”
When his daughter showed fatigue, she was ordered by the spirits to leave the circle. When the instructions were ignored, her chair was pulled from under her by some invisible agency and she fell to the floor. “She arose to go to the next room, and as she was passing a sofa she was taken up bodily, by the same unseen force, and deposited upon it, as gently as if laid there by her parents,” Dexter continued the story. “At this sitting, there were many correct answers given to questions, and of such a character as satisfied some individuals that the spirits of their friends were there.”
But Dexter refused to believe that spirits had anything to do with what he observed. He preferred to believe that it was some kind of mind over matter action or the power of magnetic motion. “The idea that spirits of our deceased friends could hold communion with ourselves on earth, could impart their feelings to us, give us a description of the various stages and conditions of their progress in the spheres above us, that they are constantly with those to whom they are attached, except when called away by the duties they are required to perform, that they have the power, through this new discovery, to explain to us every act of their spirit life, and receive from us the ordinary ideas which characterize our existence and connection here, was so strange, wonderful, and extraordinary, so incompatible with my education, so much opposed to all my preconceived opinions, conflicted so much with my religious belief, and with all that I had been instructed the Bible revealed to us, when compared with all I had seen at the circle, bewildered me,” Dexter went on, adding that he witnessed his daughter speak “the most elevated thoughts couched in language far beyond her comprehension, describing facts in science, and circumstances in the daily life of the spirit after death.” Moreover, he heard her, impromptu, recite verse after verse of poetry, “glowing with inspiration and sparkling with profound thoughts and sentiment, and yet this child never wrote a line of poetry before in her life.”
He further witnessed phenomena with others, including an illiterate mechanic speaking Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Chaldaic, while describing the customs and habits of men living on the earth thousands of years ago. He also observed a medium answering questions in Italian even though she knew nothing of the language.
A short time thereafter, Dexter began to develop into a medium. He was sitting alone in his office late one night and leaning back in his rocking chair with his right arm resting on the arm of the chair while concentrating on something that had nothing to do with Spiritualism. “As my hand lay on the arm of the chair I felt a singular sensation in the whole limb, as if the arm were grasped by two hands at the upper part,” he recalled. “I attempted to raise it, but was unable to do so, and as soon as I made the effort to move it, the fingers were bent down tightly on the arm of the chair and grasped it firmly. Immediately the hand began to tremble, and as I watched the movement the whole limb was shaken violently. At this moment I distinctly heard two loud raps on the upper part of the side wall of the room, and it then occurred to me that his unseen power, whose manifestation I had so often witnessed, was in some way operating on me. To satisfy myself, I asked in an audible voice, ‘Did the spirits just rap?’ There were three distinct raps in reply. I then asked, ‘Are the spirits trying to influence me?’ Again, there were three distinct raps. At this I arose from my chair, arranged my books, and retired.”
Dexter had no desire to be influenced by spirits and resisted further attempts. He was so opposed to it that he withdrew from further sittings in his circle. “During the time I abstained from sitting in the circle, I was twice lifted bodily from my bed, moved off its edge, and thus suspended in the air,” he further reported on the strange happenings. “The first time I was so dealt with, I had retired to a different room from the one I usually occupied. I had not been asleep, and was conscious of everything around me. As I lay composing myself for sleep, I discovered my whole body was slightly trembling in every fiber. I attempted to raise my hand, but I could not move; my eyes were closed, and the lids fastened. My mind was unusually active, and I noted every thing that took place with an intenseness of perception I never before experienced. My bodily sensation was likewise increased in power. As I lay there unable to move a limb, my body was lifted from the bed, and moved gently toward the edge, and with the bedclothes over it; there it remained a moment, and then it was moved off the bed into the room, suspended in the air, and there held for an instant. Just at this time the fire-bells rang an alarm, and my body was suddenly brought back to the bed and deposited in the same place I had previously occupied, with sort of a jerk, as if it had been dropped from the hands which held it.”
Dexter eventually gave in to the impulses. At first the sentences were short, and contained a single idea, but as he developed entire essays began coming through from spirits claiming to be Emanuel Swedenborg and Francis Bacon when in the flesh. Judge Edmonds and several friends joined him in a regular circle. Over a period of several months, volumes of teachings were offered by Swedenborg and Bacon, much of which was foreign or in conflict with what Dexter, Edmonds, and the others believed.
“I know nothing of what is written until after it is read to me, and frequently, when asked to read what has been communicated. I have found it utterly impossible to decipher it” Dexter wrote. “Not only is the thought concealed, but after it has been read to me I lose all recollection of the subject, until again my memory is refreshed by the reading. This peculiar effect on my recollection occurred more frequently when the spirits commenced writing, and I have been told by them that it was produced by their efforts to separate the action of my own mind from their thoughts, when teaching on a subject which required several sittings to finish.”
While other forms of mediumship were clearly aimed at proving the existence of the spirit world, Dexter’s mediumship apparently had a different objective. “It is not for the purpose of showing to the world that spirits can confer with man, or that God’s law obtains in spirit-connection as well as physical,” Swedenborg communicated, “but it is for the purpose of showing you the truths of your spirit-life, after the spirit has left the body, that we leave our high estate and the blissful life of the spheres, and come to teach you.”