Rev. William Stainton Moses (1839–1892) was an university- educated Medium, among the most prominent of British spiritualists.
William Stainton Moses was born November 5, 1839, in Donnington, Lincolnshire, England. His father was headmaster of the Donnington Grammar School.
Only one unusual incident has been recorded from Moses’ early years. He occasionally would walk in his sleep; once when in this state he went down to the living room, wrote out a homework assignment, and returned to bed without waking. His essay was judged the best of those turned in the next day.
Moses began attending Bedford College in 1852 and then won a scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford. There he proved to be an ambitious and diligent student until his health broke down from overwork; he left his studies, travelled for some time, and spent six months in a monastery on Mount Athos in Greece. When he had recovered his health, he returned to Oxford and took his B.A. degree. He was ordained as a minister of the Church of England at the age of 24 in 1863 and was sent to Kirk Maughold, near Ramsey, on the Isle of Man.
In 1869, Moses fell seriously ill and was administered to by a Dr. Stanhope Templeman Speer, who was visiting from London. The association proved to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Dr. Speer and his family. During his convalescence, Moses spent some time in the Speer home, and for seven years he tutored the Speers’ son, Charlton.
In 1871, Moses accepted a mastership at University College School in London. Until this time he had had little interest in Spiritualism, but in 1872 he was persuaded by Mrs. Speer to attend a Séance. It was to be the first of several, including some with the remarkable medium D.D. Home. Within about six months, Moses found himself convinced of the truth of spiritualism, and he soon began to show signs of possessing mediumistic powers himself.
In the Home Circle Moses established with the Speers, he revealed powerful paranormal physical abilities, including Levitations(of himself), Apports and Table-Tiltings. Objects left in his bedroom were often found arranged in the shape of a cross. Lights, sounds, and Smells of varying description were produced at his Séances. There were also Materializations of luminous hands and columns of light that vaguely suggested human forms. Phenomena of this type continued with gradually lessening frequency until 1881.
Also in 1872, Moses began Automatic Writing, and this continued until 1883. He recorded his scripts in a series of notebooks and serialized many in a widely read newspaper, The Spiritualist, under the pseudonym “M.A. Oxon.” They later formed the basis of the books Spirit Identity (1879), Higher Aspects of Spiritualism (1880) and Spirit Teachings (1883).
Many of these scripts take the form of dialogues between Moses and a group of spirit controls calling themselves the “Imperator” group. They present a coherent spiritualist cosmology, and in content and influence they may be compared to the work of the American Andrew Jackson Davis. Spirit Teachings quickly became the “Bible of British Spiritualism.”
Now and then Moses’s scripts included evidential communications, and these, along with his physical Demonstrations, were sufficient to attract the notice of psychical researchers, as well as spiritualists. Sir William Crookes was an occasional sitter at Moses’ Séances, and it was after attending one in 1874 that Frederic W.H. Myers persuaded Henry Sidgwick to join in organizing a group to investigate Mediumship; this proved to be a forerunner of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) established in 1882.
The SPR was originally intended as an alliance between spiritualists and researchers for the serious investigation of psychic phenomena. Moses sat on the first council as a vice president. He and many other spiritualists were impatient with the critical attitude displayed by the researchers, however. Following Eleanor Mildred Balfour Sidgwick’s comments on the fraudulent slate-writing medium William Eglinton in 1886, Moses withdrew from the SPR’s council and resigned from the society. Several others left with him or shortly thereafter.
Already in 1884 Moses had founded his own organization, the London Spiritualist Alliance (LSA). This was intended to replace the British National Association of Spiritualists (BNAS), which had been in existence from 1872 to 1882. Moses had been associated with the BNAS for most of that time; but he had become disenchanted with it and had left in 1880. The new LSA began to issue a spiritualist journal, Light, under Moses’s editorship. This journal continues to be published today by the College for Psychic Studies, successor to the LSA.
Moses remained in his teaching position at the University College School until failing health forced his resignation in 1889. He died three years later, on September 5, 1892, of complications brought on by Bright’s disease.
He willed the notebooks of automatic writings and Séance records to two fellow spiritualists, Charles Massey and Alaric A. Watts, who lent them for study to Frederic Myers. Myers in turn reported on them in the SPR Proceedings. He was impressed by the similarity of Moses’ phenomena to those associated with D. D. Home and he stressed (as did many others throughout Moses’ life) his moral uprightness and probity.
Most of his Séances were private and were not ordinarily attended by outsiders, and the records, although detailed, were kept either by Moses himself or by the Speers. These last factors reduce the significance that may be attached to his mediumship, although Moses remains, along with Home, the only major physical medium never caught as a fraud, nor even seriously suspected.
Moses’s other books, also published under the pseudonym “M. A. Oxon,” include Psychography (1878) and Ghostly Visitors (1882).
- Gauld, Alan. The Founders of Psychical Research. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968.
- Myers, F. W. H. “The Experiences of W. Stainton Moses—I.” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)9 (1894): 245–352.
- Oppenheim, Janet. The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.