Andrew Jackson Davis

Andrew Jackson Davis

          the Poughkeepsie Seer, prophet of a new revelation. He was born at Blooming Grove on the Hudson, his mother was an uneducated woman, his father a drunkard who earned a scanty living as a weaver and later as a shoemaker. Young Davis had gifts of clairvoyance and heard voices at an early age. On advice thus obtained he induced his father in 1838 to move to Poughkeepsie.

Up to the age of 16 he received no education. Apprenticed to a shoemaker named Armstrong he worked at that trade for two years. In 1843, Dr. J. S. Grimes, Professor of Jurisprudence in the Castleton Medical College, visited the city and delivered a series of lectures on mesmerism. Davis attended and was tried as a subject with no result. Later, however, a local tailor, William Livingston, made fresh attempts, threw him into magnetic sleep and discovered that in this state the human body became transparent to Davis' eyes enabling him to give accurate diagnosis of disease. The training did not last long. In 1844 Davis passed through a strange experience which was destined to have an enduring effect on his subsequent life. In a state of semi-trance he wandered away from home and found himself next morning, March 7th, 40 miles distant in the mountains. Here he claimed to have met two venerable men, whom he later identified as Galen and Swedenborg, and experienced a state of mental illumination. He began teaching and published a small pamphlet, Lectures on Clairmativeness, on the mysteries of human magnetism and electricity. He did not include this pamphlet among his later works but explained in his Autobiography that the title was meant to be Clairlativeness. In the course of a professional tour he made the acquaintance of Dr. Lyon, a Bridgeport musician, and of the Rev. Fishbough. Dr. Lyon was appointed as his magnetiser, the Rev. Fishbough as his scribe, and in New York in November, 1845, he began to dictate his great work: The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind. The dictation lasted for fifteen months. Dr. Lyon repeated each trance utterance and the Rev. Fishbough put them in notes. They both assert that except for grammatical corrections they performed no editing. There were many enthusiastic witnesses to the delivery of these utterances. Dr. 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. Prof. 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 encyclopaedic 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, Prof. Bush published a small pamphlet, Davis' 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. This rapid change of opinion is explained by Frank Podmore as due to the seer's attitude towards Christianity in the Divine Revelations part which Bush probably did not read in advance and which contradicted Davis' former views as expressed in his Lectures on Clairmativeness. The book attained 34 editions in less than 30 years which alone proved the appeal of the style and the remarkable qualities of this stupendous work. To the grandiosity of conception this opening passage testifies sufficiently:

"In the beginning the Univercoelum was one boundless, undefinable, 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 not 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.

"Matter 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."

The first part of the book is the exposition of a mystical philosophy, the second reviews the books of the Old Testament, contests their infallibility and further describes Christ as a great moral reformer but not in any special sense divine. The third puts forward a system of socialism.

The originality of the book on the whole has never been contested. Professor Bush, however, points out a strange coincidence. The Revelations, for the most part, express Swedenborg's views, the language is in several cases "all but absolutely verbal" and the agreement is conspicuous with one of Swedenborg's books of which a few English copies had just then reached America, an accurate analysis being given by Davis of Swedenborg's The Economy of the Animal Kingdom. Bush quotes this as an argument for Davis' supernatural powers as the book could not have reached him. Indeed, there is a confirmation of Bush's opinion in the fact that Davis believed that he was controlled by Swedenborg while he produced the book. Further in his Mesmer and Swedenborg, New York, 1847, Bush prints a letter from Davis accompanying a paper written in a cave in a mountain opposite Poughkeepsie, on June 15th, 1846, and quoting accurately long passages from Swedenborg's Earths in the Universe. Bush was satisfied that Davis never heard of this book.

An apparently more serious charge could have been levelled against Davis' Great Harmonia of 1852. There are long passages in this book which correspond with the text of Sunderland's Pathetism of 1847. But even Podmore is of the opinion that Davis could not have copied these passages and that the explanation is to be sought in an extraordinary retentiveness of his memory.

The astronomical statements of the Divine Revelations are very curious. In March, 1846, when the existence of an eighth planet was yet an astronomical supposition (the discovery and verification of Leverrier's calculations did not take place until September, 1846) the book speaks of nine planets. The density of the eighth planet as given by Davis agreed with later findings.

The ninth planet, Pluto, was recently (1933) discovered. On the other hand, he speaks of four planetoids - Ceres, Pallas, Juno and Vesta - whereas they are reckoned in hundreds now. He also said that the Solar system is revolving around a great centre together with all the other stars. Saturn he believed to be inhabited by a more advanced humanity than ours. Jupiter and Mars were also inhabited. On Venus and Mercury the development of humanity was less advanced than on Earth. The three outer planets he declared to be lifeless.

His prediction of the coming of Spiritualism is often quoted:

"It 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 such as is now being enjoyed by the inhabitants of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn."

In his notes, dated March 31, 1848, it is found:

"About 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."

Podmore, whose attention this note apparently escaped, is not willing to refer the prediction to the Hydesville knockings as the periodical of Davis' close collaborators, the Univercoelum, which continued for more than a year after the Hydesville phenomena, showed indifference. It published but one article, 'Strange Manifestations', on the subject, as sent by a correspondent, and the editors simply promised to investigate.

During the fifteen months while the first great work of Davis was dictated, the sole means of living of the trio was the seer's earning power in giving medical diagnoses. When this proved insufficient the lady whom Davis later married, came to their assistance. The publication of the book made Davis famous. He was soon surrounded by a band of enthusiasts. As their mouthpiece, on December 4, 1847, the first number of the Univercoelum (coined apparently from Swedenborg's "universurn ccelum") appeared. The Rev. S. B. Brittan, the Universalist Minister, was appointed editor-in-chief. He was assisted by the Rev. William Fishbough, the Rev. Thomas Lake Harris, the Rev. W. M. Fernald, J. K. Ingalls, Dr. Chivers, Frances Green, etc. The object of the publication was "the establishment of a universal system of truth, the reform and the reorganisation of society." This reorganisation was expected to come on socialist lines. Davis contributed many articles which were later incorporated in his Great Harmonia.

After twelve months of existence the Univercoelum absorbed the Christian Rationalist, a similar organ, but its career came to an end in July 1849, it being succeeded by The Present Age of W. M. Channing, mainly a socialist organ to which Davis and his friends no more contributed. They accepted as their new mouthpiece the Spirit Messenger of Springfield which was jointly edited by the Rev. R. P. Ambler and Apollos Munn. As the friends of Davis were scattered, other periodicals were founded and the propaganda of harmonial philosophy was independently carried on.

About the time the Univercoelum was founded Davis disposed of the services of his mesmeriser. By an effort of will he could throw himself alone into what he called the "superior condition." He now also remembered his experiences while in trance and wrote his subsequent books in his own hand. He disclaimed dictation by the spirits and said that he could write them by some process of inner perception. Except for seeing apparitions, he was unacquainted with physical phenomena until 1850, when he paid a visit to Dr. Phelps' house in Stratford which was the scene of violent Poltergeist disturbances. In the same year, under the title The Philosophy of Spiritual Intercourse, he published a pamphlet on his observations. His teachings left a deep impression on his age. The Great Harmonia passed through forty editions. His autobiography The Magic Staff, only extends to the year of 1857. In 1860 he started a weekly, the Herald of Progress which absorbed the Spiritual Telegraph. For many decades he worked in ceaseless activity. In the late years of his life he had a small bookshop in Boston. There he sold books and - having acquired a medical degree - prescribed herbal remedies for his patients.

His books: Lectures on Clairmativeness, 1845; The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations and a Voice to Mankind, 1847; The Fountain, 1850; The Philosophy of Spiritual Intercourse, 1850; Truth v. Theology, 1852; The Great Harmonia, 1852; The Present Age and Inner Life, 1853; The Magic Staff, 1857; Death and the After Life, 1865; Morning Lectures, 1865; The Penetralia, 1866; Arabula, or the Divine Guest, 1867; Progressive Lyceum, 1868; Answers to Ever-Recurring Questions from the People (A sequel to Penetralia), 1868; A Stellar Key to Summerland, 1868; Memoranda of Persons, Places and Events, 1868; Ancient and Modern Spirit Mysteries Classified and Explained, 1869; Mental Disorder, 1871; The Temple: on Diseases of the Brain and Nerves, 1871; The Diakka, and Their Earthly Victims, 1873; Events in the Life of a Seer, 1873; A Sacred Book, Containing Old and New Gospels, 1873; Free Thoughts Concerning Religion, 1873; Harmonial Man, or Thoughts for the Age, 1873; The History and Philosophy of Evil, 1873; Philosophy of Special Providences 1873; The Genesis and Ethics of Conjugal Love, 1874; The Harbinger of Health, 1874; Beyond the Valley, 1885; Views of Our Heavenly Home, 1883; Tale of a Physician, 1885.

W. H. Evans, a lifelong student of the work of the Poughkeepsie Seer has condensed his philosophy in Twelve Lectures of the Harmonial Philosophy of Andrew Jackson Davis, Manchester, 1925. A larger volume was published in America by A Doctor of Hermetic Science: The Harmonial Philosophy - a compendium and digest of the works of A. J. Davis, 1920.

Source (with minor modifications): An Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science by Nandor Fodor (1934).



Some parts of this page The International Survivalist Society 2004