Spirit trumpets: A Victorian seance essential

Used to amplify sounds from beyond the veil, the College's collection of spirit trumpets have certainly seen their fair share of drama!

By: The College of Psychic Studies.   Posted

One spring night in 1848, a pair of young sisters unwittingly ignited the Spiritualist movement by communicating with the ghost that haunted their New York home. The spirit communicated with the girls through knocking sounds, orchestrating quite the cacophony in the Fox family cottage. From these early beginnings, knocks and raps on wood became common parlance in the Victorian seance. However, they were not the only means of spirit communication.

As the number of accomplished mediums grew, so too did their techniques. Victorian mediums would place a bell in the seance room for spirits to announce their arrival. Some would use a spirit board inscribed with letters and numbers, christened the Ouija board by the medium Helen Peters in 1890. Tipping tables were also a popular feature of the Victorian seance. A group would sit around the table and wait in anticipation for it to twitch, turn and occasionally levitate, depending on the messages the spirit wished to convey.

Spirit trumpets - also known as seance trumpets – came to the fore in the late 19th century. During a seance, the aluminium cone was placed in the centre of the table. The spirit trumpet would amplify any sounds issuing forth from beyond the veil. Noises ranged from the familiar raps and knocks to voices, whispers, whistles, dogs barking and rushing wind or waves. 

Occasionally a spirit would speak through the medium, who would bring the spirit trumpet to their mouth in order to amplify the message. Sometimes the spirit trumpet would levitate and float around the room, hovering beside the person for whom the message was intended. As well as sounds and spoken messages, spirit trumpets were also capable of gifting an apport materialised from another realm.

One of the most famous mediums to use a spirit trumpet was the legendary American medium Etta Wriedt who was an active supporter of the College. A beautiful full-length portrait of her hangs on our first-floor landing.

Victorian seances certainly had their fair share of drama, and spirit trumpets no doubt amplified it! The College archive is fortunate to own a collection of spirit trumpets that have undoubtedly seen a great deal of use throughout the history of the College.

Images © The College of Psychic Studies. Read more about our rich archive collection here.