SOMETIMES THE DEAD REALLY CAN TALK
The connection between crime and the supernatural in nineteenth century England often had to do with the gulf between the dangerous classes and the newly emerging middle class.
Jack the Ripper was as much a magician as a criminal, otherwise how could dozens of policemen and vigilantes miss him in a small area of narrow lanes?
To this day, our fascination with the Ripper is that he eluded the many who sought to catch him. We know that in some cases he and his victims were only one or two blocks away from the police yet, no one ever heard or saw anything.
But the fear of the middle class was really based on a fear of “darkest London”, that it might rise against them and take away the newly won prosperity, safety and comfort.
When the author of London Labour and the London Poor wrote: “A week of bad weather could prevent ships from landing and reduce thousands of dock workers to starvation,” he was expressing a fear of the mob, a fear of the “dangerous classes” that existed in London since the 1700s.
This social context was part of the fear but why was the fear so often cast in “spiritual” terms? The Salvationists (today the Salvation Army) saw their fight to rehabilitate the criminal and poor working classes as a fight against evil. Their armband read: Blood and Fire, Salvation Army. In its day, it was a radical organization led by fearless men and women who often ventured into thieves’ kitchens and alleys where the police were afraid to set foot. Who cast the struggle between good and evil in the form of “spirit?”
Oddly enough, this point of view was not the work of church leaders but of two young girls who were not from London but from America, the Fox sisters who, in upstate New York gave birth to the spiritualist movement. The mysterious knocks and noises they heard in their little house in Hydesville ,New York set off a world wide chain reaction that dwarfs every other western religious movement since the birth of Christianity.
Once the two sisters began speaking about their experiences in public, a wave of seances, hypnotic experiments and a fascination with “spiritualist” phenomena erupted around the world.