The Good Death Roundtable: Spiritualism in Practice

Spiritualism is the American-born religion that believes in communication with spirits of the dead. Although its wide-ranging influences is often censored from official histories, Spiritualism was once a seminal force in Western culture, affecting late nineteenth-century art, science, technology, entertainment, and social reform. Join Shannon Taggart, artist and author of SÉANCE, for a discussion about the practice of Spiritualism, both past and present.

American artist Shannon Taggart became aware of Spiritualism as a teenager, when her cousin received a message from a medium that revealed details about her grandfather’s death. In 2001, while working as a photographer, she began taking pictures where that messaged was received: Lily Dale, New York, home to the world’s largest Spiritualist community, and proceeded to other such communities as England’s Arthur Findlay College. Spiritualism’s mysterious processes, earnest practitioners, and neglected photographic history became an inspiration to Taggart, and her project evolved into an 18-year journey that has taken her around the world in search of “ectoplasm”—the elusive substance that is said to be both spiritual and material.

In this illustrated presentation, Taggart offers haunting images exploring Spiritualist practices in the US, England, and Europe, as well as rare historical photographs from her book, SÉANCE. Her talk will examine Spiritualism’s relationship with human celebrity, its connections to art, science, and technology, and its intrinsic bond with the medium of photography. Afterward, Taggart will interview New York psychic medium Paula Roberts about her 40+ year long career, including her most memorable experiences concerning clairvoyance, investigating hauntings, and remote viewing with Ingo Swann.

This roundtable will take place off-site at Governors Island, Nolan Park 8B, which is accessible via ferry from Manhattan and Brooklyn.

About The Good Death Roundtable series:
The Good Death Roundtable is a forum that aims to foster a better relationship with our mortality. This fall’s series on Spiritualism will focus on the history and origins of the religion, how it functions in the twenty-first century, and its long-lasting cultural ramifications. By exploring this Victorian religious practice, we gain a better understanding of how the desire to speak to the dead gave way to a cultivated relationship with death and dying. In addition to bringing death out of the taboo, The Good Death Roundtable asks us to consider mortality with an open perspective in hopes that a better relationship to it leads to a fullness of life.

Shannon Taggart is an artist based in Brooklyn, NY. Her images have been exhibited and featured internationally including the publications TIME, New York Times Magazine, Discover, and Newsweek. Her work has been recognized by Nikon; the Inge Morath Foundation; and Magnum Photos, American Photography, and the Alexia Foundation for World Peace. From 2014–2016, she was artist- and programmer-in-residence at the Morbid Anatomy Museum. Her book SÉANCE—a part-documentary, part-ghost story 18-years in the making—is supported with a commentary on her experiences, a foreword by Dan Aykroyd, creator of Ghostbusters (1984) and fourth-generation Spiritualist, and illustrated essays from curator Andreas Fischer and artist Tony Oursler, will be released by Fulgur Press/D.A.P. in October 2019.

Paula Roberts was born in England and moved to New York City in 1978. She attended a short course at the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain in London, where it became apparent that she was already a full-fledged medium. She has since been credited with having “super psi,” sensitivity beyond chance or average. Paula has been working full time as a clairvoyant counselor for over 30 years and considers this work to be her calling. She has participated in experimental work as a paranormal investigator and her accuracy has been documented in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. Paula has been featured on television, including Unsolved Mysteries, as well as in numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Her annual predictions have appeared in Cindy Adams’ column in the New York Post since 1986. In 2018 the “Paula Roberts Papers” were archived for posterity at the University of West Georgia.