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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Davis, Andrew Jackson (1826-1910) Known as “The Poughkeepsie Seer,” Davis was the son of a shoemaker, with very little formal education. He claimed from age fourteen to be able to diagnose illnesses by clairvoyance. For a while, he made his living at this questionable profession, then in 1847 he published his major work among many that were to come, The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind. Some thirty-four editions of this book appeared in the next thirty years. A brief quotation will serve to illustrate the pretentious nature of this opus:  

      In the beginning the Univercoelum was one boundless, undefinable, and unimaginable ocean of Liquid Fire. . . . Matter and Power were existing as a Whole, inseparable. The Matter contained the substance to produce all suns, all worlds, and systems of worlds, throughout the immensity of Space. It contained the qualities to produce all things that are existing upon each of those worlds. The Power contained Wisdom and Goodness, Justice, Mercy and Truth. It contained the original and essential Principle that is displayed throughout the immensity of Space, controlling worlds and systems of worlds, and producing Motion, Life, Sensation and Intelligence, to be impartially disseminated upon their surfaces as Ultimates.

      This is typical of such literature, using undefined terms, generalities, and sweeping claims that are never further looked into. It has an appeal to the uneducated, who accept it as being equivalent to genuine philosophical and scientific works of which they have an equal lack of comprehension. And, to some academics, this kind of writing can appear to be a step beyond their own abilities, especially if it seems to state something they wish to accept.
      Some of the contents of The Principles of Nature were plagiarized from the works of Swedenborg, a mystic whose books had just been published as Davis began his own work. Davis in some cases used as his own, word for word, long passages from Swedenborg, both in this book and in his subsequent writings. This has been accepted by Davis's followers as proof that he was inhabited by the spirit of Swedenborg while writing, rather than evidence that he might have been cheating. They reject the other, more parsimonious explanation.
      Davis also said that the planet Saturn was inhabited by humans more advanced than those here on Earth, with other human civilizations on Mars and Jupiter, and more primitive humans on Mercury and Venus. In 1847 he hardly had to worry about space probes revealing the facts about these matters.
      Davis invented the term Summerland to designate the undefined place to which souls went after the death of the owners. This was an attractive and welcome terminology for some of the spiritualists, since it relieved the believers of any need for a religious connection.
      In his last years, Davis ran a small bookshop in Boston.

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