The word spiritualism is used to refer to the belief that people can communicate with spirits of the dead; when capitalized, the term refers to religions or movements that are based on this view. During the mid-nineteenth century in the United States, Spiritualism became a widespread social movement, thanks largely to the widely publicized activities of two girls, the Fox sisters, who demonstrated in front of audiences their apparent ability to communicate with spirits. (Many years later the sisters confessed to being frauds, although they subsequently retracted their confessions.) Eventually the Spiritualism movement spread to England as well. But even as it spread, Spiritualism had many critics, particularly after some people professing to be spirit communicators, or mediums, were proved to be frauds. Consequently, participants in the movement, known as Spiritualists, decided to band together, forming their own churches and private communities where they could share their beliefs and practice mediumship without fear of criticism or ridicule. The most notable Spiritualist community is Lily Dale, created near Buffalo, New York, in 1879. Only Spiritualists can buy a home there, but every summer the community conducts workshops on spirit communication that visitors can attend.

The fact that this community still exists today, even though interest in spiritualism declined during the first half of the twentieth century, can be attributed to the New Age movement, which began in the United States in the 1970s. Many New Age adherents believe that individual human consciousness can survive apart from the physical body, even after death. Consequently, Spiritualists can be found in many New Age communities as well as in Spiritualist communities.

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