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Arts Eclectic turns the spotlight on happenings in the arts and culture scene in and around the Austin area. Through interviews with local musicians, dancers, singers, and artists, Arts Eclectic aims to bring locals to the forefront and highlight community cultural events.Support for Arts Eclectic comes from Broadway Bank.

'Touching back to a movement': The Austin Séance recreates Victorian-era spiritualism

The Austin Séance

The Austin Séance (made up of Jake Cordero and Albert Lucio) is on a bit of a mission. They want to teach a modern audience about an important but largely forgotten chapter in American history – the Spiritualism movement of the 19th Century. To do that, they recreate the sort of séances that were popular at the time.

“We are dedicated to facilitating séances and doing them from a historical perspective, in 1848 style,” Lucio says. “And we're also interested in preserving the history of American Spiritualism and séance. And so that is our main focus. When you think about séance, it's not [like] anything you might see on television – it's not dolls running across the floor, chairs stacking themselves up or anything. It's really just sitting in a room, asking to see if we can make some kind of contact, and then listening to each other breathe.”

“And what we are trying to present in the room is, as Albert explained, sort of an 1848 style presentation, mixed with some modern touches with regards to some devices and things that people would be familiar with,” Cordero says. “But a large component of it is purely educational because I think that most Americans are unaware of what a cultural phenomenon the Spiritualist movement was during the late 19th century and early 20th century.”

“And so it's really touching back to a movement – that of Spiritualism and séances that actually changed the course of American history,” Lucio says. “It's not necessarily taught in textbooks, but séances were occurring in the White House. Congress was having hearings on them. It influenced a lot of our literature, it influenced our art, it influenced so much of our culture, and so we take that perspective and we bring that to people. And it's really teaching them about this really interesting moment in history.”

Cordero and Lucio both stress that their demonstrations are designed to be accessible to believers, skeptics, and the intellectually curious. “I think that we offer safe space within our workshops [and] within the séance rooms for believers, nonbelievers, skeptics,” Cordero says. “Because, you know, one thing that we say over and over again is that we're not selling religion, we're selling experience. And I think that the subject matter itself, you have to admit, is somewhat fascinating, right? I mean, the definition of ‘spiritualist’ is a person who believed that they could make contact with the other side.”

“And historically, they saw themselves as scientists,” Lucio adds. “They believed that it was a science that they were founders of during… the beginning of that movement. And so it didn't have strong religious ties to it. It was just simply people playing Victorian games in the dark to see what happens.”

“If you don't believe, it's fine and wonderful. You can come and enjoy yourself and hopefully you will learn something at the end of the evening and you will find it a very interesting, odd evening,” Cordero says. “Some people will get something else out of the out of the presentations. And we allow our sitters to arrive at whatever conclusion they feel like they want to arrive at.”

“Jake and I, in our approach… we're more like [Mulder] and Scully,” Lucio says. “We're more like The X-Files in our approach, where I am the more secular, skeptic person.”

“I'm kind of less agnostic,” Cordero adds. “I'm a bit more in the vein of I really want to believe. And, you know, we've experienced all sorts of weird things in the room that Albert and I have ended up kind of arguing about, like the significance of what it was that we just saw and… what happened there.”

“Yeah, many times when we're driving long road trips,” Lucio says, “It's just sitting there and just debating what it is that just happened and what it all means.”

The Austin Séance has several presentations and events scheduled this summer. More information on those events and subscription information for The Austin Séance Quarterly Journal is available at their website.

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces and hosts This Is My Thing and Arts Eclectic, and also produces Get Involved and the Sonic ID project. When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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