In the midst of a nineteenth-century boom in spiritual
experimentation, the Cercle Harmonique, a remarkable group of
African-descended men, practiced Spiritualism in heavily Catholic
New Orleans from just before the Civil War to the end of
Reconstruction. In this first comprehensive history of the Cercle,
Emily Suzanne Clark illuminates how highly diverse religious
practices wind in significant ways through American life, culture,
and history. Clark shows that the beliefs and practices of
Spiritualism helped Afro-Creoles mediate the political and social
changes in New Orleans, as free blacks suffered increasingly
restrictive laws and then met with violent resistance to suffrage
and racial equality.
Drawing on fascinating records of actual seance practices, the
lives of the mediums, and larger citywide and national contexts,
Clark reveals how the messages that the Cercle received from the
spirit world offered its members rich religious experiences as well
as a forum for political activism inspired by republican ideals.
Messages from departed souls including Francois Rabelais, Abraham
Lincoln, John Brown, Robert E. Lee, Emanuel Swedenborg, and even
Confucius discussed government structures, the moral progress of
humanity, and equality. The Afro-Creole Spiritualists were
encouraged to continue struggling for justice in a new world where
"bright" spirits would replace raced bodies.