The Fool’s journey? Opening up academia to otherworldly travels…

Playing the fool or expanding horizons?

Playing the fool or expanding horizons?

‘Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do’.
(Benjamin Franklin)

Fools rush in…

Getting the SpELS Project (Spiritualism in the Everyday Life of Stoke-on-Trent) off the ground wasn’t easy. Academia tends to shy away from what it doesn’t understand; and Spiritualism is something academia on the whole fails to understand.

When I first started to conduct research into the lives of people who lived in a world where death doesn’t mark the end, but just the beginning of the next chapter, colleagues and publishers were reluctant to take me seriously. There is a long history of researchers (across both the social and natural sciences) who have developed an interest in the ‘otherworldly’ only to have it quashed by an establishment that ridicules them as fools. Professor Charles Emmons wrote about this very experience on the blog back in 2013.

Several years ago when I told a colleague I was studying angel healing, she laughed at me and said, ‘that’s ridiculous, angels don’t exist!’ Like a fool, however, I stuck my ground, found some likeminded curious ‘fools’, and began to develop a research career in this fascinating area. Because whether or not angels ‘exist’ in the way we currently understand ‘reality’ to exist, a belief in angels and other otherworldly beings is growing in modern British society. And as I’ve discovered from previous research, such beliefs have a big impact on people’s lives in all sorts of ways.

Seeing the light…

A perfect venue...

A perfect venue…

So SpELS has emerged as a result of a small group of (possibly foolish) academics persevering with our journey, and the project is now well and truly launched. On Tuesday evening we invited all our participants from Gladstone Pottery Museum, the three Spiritualist Churches at Fenton, Burslem and Longton, together with the advisory board members along to a celebration of the project at The Church Bar and Restaurant in Hanley. We chose this particular venue because it was home to Hanley Spiritualist Church for the best part of a century.

When she took it over the new owner, Diane McDaid, was keen to renovate the property in a way which was sensitive to its former use. The result is an impressive restaurant and bar with lovely food, some interesting ghostly stories and the added attraction of Tuesday Tarot nights!

Diane explains the journey from church to restaurant

Diane explains the journey from church to restaurant

Tarot is a very popular tool used by spiritually curious people for self-development. But it’s also popular more generally among people who – like the Church Bar and Restaurant’s Tuesday night diners – just want some insight into what’s going on in their life. Many Spiritualists also use Tarot cards as one way to open a channel to Spirit and receive their mediumship messages.

Play your cards right…

Coincidentally (although as Spiritualists might tell you, there’s no such thing as coincidence!) the Tarot deck is based around ‘the Fool’s journey’. The Fool is a simple soul open to embracing whatever comes his way as he embarks on his journey through life. He is unaware of the hardships he will inevitably face, so he steps out with confidence and an innocent faith that something good will come of it.

The Fool begins his journey

The Fool begins his journey

Adopting the childlike innocence of the Fool takes nerve, but it can also help to advance our understanding of what it means to be human; shedding light on areas where others might fear to tread. Outside the circles of those who practice it, little is known about the role of Spiritualism in modern Britain, yet it is the fastest growing religion according to census data. We would be fools to pretend it doesn’t have a place in our disenchanted world.

And this is why I continue on this particular journey, however foolish some academics may think me to be, because it helps to broaden our understanding of the world, and challenge preconceived ignorance and misconceptions about other people’s journeys.

‘People do not wish to appear foolish;
to avoid the appearance of foolishness, they are willing to remain actually fools’.
(Alice Walker)


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