Haunted Western New York-The Burned-Over District (Part 1)

738px-Burned_over_district.svg

 

Western New York has long been a zone with a rich history of movements, spiritual associations, and an interest in the metaphysical. The home of the Spiritualist movement the areas surrouning Buffalo, Rochester, and even Utica to an extent have been attracting seekers for close to 200 years. However, there was a period of time when this section of the state experienced a rush towards the spiritual that has had lasting effects on the paranormal, metaphysical, and religous life of the region since that point.

America during the first half of the 1800s was experiencing a certain amount of turmoil in relation to its religious views. While the dominant religion was, as it is still is, Christianity, individuals and groups began to seek out ways of interacting with their conceptualization of the Divine. Many of these groups took on overtones of thought not seen previously (and some that would not be seen again until much, much later-and again in subculture groups when these ideas did reappear).

This is at least partially understandable by looking at the structure of American society at this point in history; by this era, America had been established as a nation and fought for its independence (twice). With its right to existence soldified the factors that at least loosely unified the nation were starting to splinter and people were beginning to question what ideals should and should not influence societal thought. As one of the dominant social institutions religion is a zone ripe for both the development and broadcasting of these ideals; Durkheim would argue that this is in fact one of the major societal uses of a religious system.

American’s use of religious thought to influence wider society was hardly new even at that era. Weber argues that in part, American capitalism grew out of the dominant religious themes of the original colonies. Being a nation in flux it’s hardly surprising that new thought patterns were errupting into the popular mindset-this is the same force that would drive the flappers into a frenzy during the Interwar period when the world was attempting to re-integrate the Lost Generation.

At this point in its history the United States was in the grips of what was referred to as the Second Great Awakening. This was a revival movement in Protestant groups aimed at re-energizing people back into the faiths. For reasons that are still not firmly understood Western New York took to this movement with such an interest that it became, to use a term, flooded with new ideas, religions, revival movements, and other waves of religious thought. In fact, it was so overwhelmed with these ideas that even as early as the 1870s it would be termed ‘the Burned-Over District’-so called because there wasn’t anyone left to inflame with passion to religion.

Western New York would not only be a zone for conversion, it would be a zone for creation. Many new religous movements would come out of this area by 1840; many of them would be almost counterculture with their emphasis on social reform, freedoms of expression, and base themes. These groups would include religions that would later become internationally influential (the Church of Later Day Saints), groups that would have a direct impact on the paranormal history of the area (Spiritualism coming out of Buffalo and Rochester), and the Shakers and Oneida Society in Central New York.

(Image from Wiki)

Burned-Over District

Second Great Awakening

Oneida Society

Max Weber and Religion

Durkheim and Religion

 

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