Owen Davies (2007) argues that the history of ghosts over the past 500 years is a remarkable story of the survival of spirit belief. It is also a story of change and uncertainty. At times of war, civil unrest, political and economic crisis, people turn to spirit beliefs as one way of coping with change. Prior to the 1800s, supernaturalism, folklore and spirits were common to European culture, in the oral tradition, artefacts and printed matter. These spirit beliefs and representations were produced within the context of religious and pagan practices. With the revolution in commerce and communications during the nineteenth century, spirit forms changed from a religious to secular realm. Ghosts, ghouls and witches were perceived as old-fashioned thinking and superstition. Spirit beliefs continued to exist but were framed in the social context of the industrial revolution and scientiﬁc progression. Nineteenth-century spiritualism marked a new and signiﬁcant chapter in the story of ghosts. Modern spiritualism offered an alternative form of spirit belief outside of dominant scientiﬁc and religious thinking. It offered hope in an afterlife during a time of cultural and moral imbalance. The story of ghosts in the nineteenth century shows how spirit forms and
beliefs were produced within a state of uncertainty. These cultural forms invited multiple meanings. On the one hand, the representation of demons, witches, ghosts and magic were a major part of nineteenth-century popular culture, such as stories of haunted houses, public attractions, séances and spirit photographs, stage illusions and ghost shows. These representations were popular in part because they drew on a longstanding cultural fascination with ghosts and provided familiar stories for mass consumption. Phantasmagoria, trick ghost ﬁlms and theatrical magic used spirit forms as secular attractions. On the other hand, spirit photography, ﬁlm, and medium demonstrations were examples of how spirit beliefs were maintained through popular cultural forms. The double meaning of a medium signalled the web of connections between technologically based communication and spirit communication during this period. The multiple meaning of spirit forms and new technologies was incorporated into the construction of live performances in public séances, magic acts and variety shows where things were not quite what they appeared to be. In this way, the
production and reception of ghost shows, spirit photographs, trick ghost ﬁlms, and theatrical illusions during the nineteenth century illuminates the selling of an ambiguous cultural experience to mass audiences.