Britten, Emma Hardinge (1823–1899)
Inspirational speaker, medium, and early propagandist for
Spiritualism. Born in the East End of London, Britten was the
daughter of Capt. Floyd, a seafaring man. She demonstrated
gifts as musician, singer, and elocutionist at an early age. At the
age of 11 she was earning her living as a musical teacher. Under
contract to a theatrical company in 1856, she went to America
where she performed on Broadway and elsewhere in New York
City. Through the mediumship of Ada Hoyt (Mrs. Coan), she
converted to Spiritualism, developed her own psychic powers,
and sat publicly for the Society for the Diffusion of Spiritual
Knowledge in New York. Her mediumistic gifts included automatic
writing, psychometry, occasional healing, prophecy, and
inspirational speaking, which disclosed great erudition. As was
common at the time, she spoke extempore on a subject generally
chosen by a committee from the audience.
In the early history of spirit return, Britten furnished one of
the better attested cases. After the mail steamer Pacific sank in
the high seas, a member of the crew possessed her body in
trance and disclosed the facts of the tragedy. Britten was threatened
with prosecution by the owners of the steamer when the
story was made public, but it was found to be true.
In 1865 she went back to England, But returned to New
York in 1869 to meet with publishers about a book she was writing.
In the voyage from England, dhe met her future husband,
William Britten, with whom she began an occult magazine, The
Western Star. A fire ended that effort.
Britten is best remembered today, not as a medium but as
a spokesperson and advocate of Spiritualism, for which she
traveled widely across North America and the British Empire.
In Manchester, England, she founded and for five years edited
Two Worlds, long a prominent Spiritualist magazine. Her two
chronicles of emergent Spiritualism, Modern American Spiritualism
(1870) and Nineteenth-Century Miracles (1884) became important
sources for understanding the origin and spread of the
movement worldwide. Among her other writings, Ghost Land;
or, Researches into the Mysteries of Occultism (1876) and her translation
and editing of the anonymous Art Magic (1875) were
most important. She also for a time edited the American periodical
Western Star (1872) and the British publication Unseen
Universe (1892–93). Her early musical talent reemerged in a
number of musical compositions and songs written under the
name Ernest Reinhold.
Britten was also among the founders of the Theosophical
Society in New York in 1875, but soon severed her connection
with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Britten’s life is told in a biography
edited by her sister, Margaret Wilkinson.
British Society of Dowsers Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
She died in England October 2, 1899. The Britten Memorial
Institute and Library and the Britten Memorial Museum
were named in her honor.
[Britten, Emma Hardinge.] Art Magic. Boston, 1875. Reprint,
Chicago Progressive Thinker Publishing House, 1898.
———. Ghost Land; or, Researches into the Mysteries of Occultism.
Chicago Progressive Thinker Publishing House, 1897.
———. Modern American Spiritualism. New York, 1870. Reprint,
New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1970.
———. Nineteenth-Century Miracles. New York William Britten,