“An impressive piece of research . . . a must-read for anyone fascinated with Spiritualism.” Alma Katsu, author of The Deep and The Hunger

Calling the Spirits investigates the eerie history of our conversations with the dead, from necromancy in Homer’s Odyssey to the emergence of Spiritualism – when Victorians were entranced by mediums and the seance was born.

Among our cast are the Fox sisters, teenagers surrounded by ‘spirit rappings’; Daniel Dunglas Home, the ‘greatest medium of all time’; Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose unlikely friendship was forged, then riven, by the afterlife; and Helen Duncan, the medium whose trial in 1944 for witchcraft proved more popular to the public than news about the war. The book also considers Ouija boards, modern psychics and paranormal investigations, and is illustrated with engravings, fine art (from beyond) and photographs. Hugely entertaining, it begs the question: is anybody there . . .?

“It’s not only fearful fiction that is having a moment. With the world full of real-life terrors, nonfiction writers are also responding. Informational texts about horror have traditionally been limited to local ghost tales or explorations of horror in film. Now, authors are entering new territory that goes beyond the confines of the genre. Lisa Morton, the world’s eminent expert on Halloween, has a fascinating new book, Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances, a fun and thorough look at how humans have tried to communicate with the dead over time.”

— Library Journal

“While Victorian obsessions are the meat of Calling the Spirits, it is bookended by the necromancy of the ancients and modern séances . . . Morton’s book will interest anyone whose ancestors claimed psychic powers.”

— Who Do You Think You Are?

“… it is engagingly written, well illustrated, and up-to-date…a readable and fairly thorough introduction to the subject.”

– Brian C. Wilson, Society for Psychical Research

“The fascinating history of séances is filled with mystery, deception, self-deception, genuine belief, scientific enquiry and personal transformation, which is well described in this extremely interesting and readable account.”

John Rimmer, Magonia Review

Calling the Spirits is an engaging read that provides a compelling overview of Spiritualism and its practice of seance-sitting. This work is remarkable in its scope, covering everything from necromancy in the ancient world to nineteenth-century mediumship and psychical research on both sides of the Atlantic…Morton ends the book with a compelling meditation on why seances are necessary and why consultations with psychics are still, in many ways, as sought after as they were a century and a half ago. Hence, Morton tells the story of Spiritualism, writ large, in a highly readable book that provides a succinct, though impressively nuanced, summary of an otherwise sprawling social movement and religion.”

Elizabeth Lowry, Nova Religio, August 2021

“The facts in Lisa Morton’s History of Seances may not be new, nevertheless her book is both worthy of merit and surprising…Morton’s book is carefully researched. It is rich in examples of experiments with paranormal phenomena. The author presents clearly how even sceptical scientists devoted their efforts to study spiritualism and seances.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, October 1, 2021


1 Summoning the Old Spirits
2 Early Necromancy
3 Darkness Across the Enlightenment and the Romantic Gothic
4 The Victorians and Spiritualism; or, the Seance is Born
5 Wars and Ouija: Spiritualism in the Twentieth Century
6 How Universal is the Seance?
7 The Modern Seance
8 (Why) Do We Need the Seance?

Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements