What does "Ministry of Angels" refer to in Volume I of The History of Spiritualism by Arthur Conan Doyle?

Judge Edmonds was pointed at in the streets as a crazy Spiritualist. Wealthy merchants were compelled to assert their claims to be considered sane and maintain their commercial rights by the most firm and determined action. Professional men and tradesmen were reduced to the limits of ruin, and a relentless persecution, originated by the Press and maintained by the pulpit, directed the full flow of its evil tides against the cause and its representatives. Many of the houses where circles were being held were disturbed by crowds who would gather together after nightfall and with yells, cries, whistles and occasional breaking of windows try to molest the quiet investigators in their unholy work of "waking the dead," as one of the papers piously denominated the act of seeking for the "Ministry of Angels."

Source: Chapter X. — The Davenport Brothers, in The History of Spiritualism.

  • I don't understand why this question was downvoted. It seems perfectly legitimate for this site. I have upvoted to restore a neutral score.
    – verbose
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 4:47

2 Answers 2


Arthur Conan Doyle was the foremost defender of spiritualism during his lifetime. He saw séances as a way to provide both comfort and guidance: comfort to the survivors, as they could communicate with their departed loved ones; guidance to all humankind, as the spirits could provide information about the hereafter. The spirits invoked at the séance are like a minister in a church, providing help, comfort, and guidance to the attendees. The spirits are the angels who minister to the living. Hence, to Conan Doyle, spiritualism was the ministry of angels.

Conan Doyle defends spiritualistic practices against mainstream Christian belief. The Church itself had very mixed feelings about spiritualism, and many condemned it as contrary to Christianity. For example, a 1937 report of some Church officials, unpublished until the 1960s, said:

We cannot avoid the impression that a great deal of Spiritualism as organised has its centre in man rather than in God, and is, indeed, materialistic in character. To this extent it is a substitute for religion, and it not in itself religious at all. We were impressed by the unsatisfactory answers received from practising Spiritualists to such questions as, "Has your prayer life, your sense of God, been strengthened by your Spiritualistic experiences?" This explains in great part the hesitancy of many Christians to have anything to do with it.

According to traditional Christian belief, the dead rest until the day of Resurrection. Spiritualism could easily be seen as going against this because it involved waking the dead. Conan Doyle says that a newspaper piously called it exactly that, thereby encouraging hooligans to disrupt séances. The word pious has connotations of hypocrisy. Here are excerpts from the definition at Merriam-Webster:

: marked by conspicuous religiosity
// a hypocrite—a thing all pious words and uncharitable deeds
— Charles Reade

: marked by sham or hypocrisy
: marked by self-conscious virtue : VIRTUOUS

So Conan Doyle says that the newspaper hypocritically called spiritualism an unholy act whereas in reality it is the Ministry of Angels.


In that context "ministry" must mean the original meaning -- the action of ministering, or attending to the needs of, someone.

Therefore, while the crowds were angry over the impious act of disturbing the dead (which is indeed the original sense of "necromancy"), the paper reframed it as piously seeking out the help of angels.

  • While I agree that "ministry" has the original meaning, and that the crowds were angry because the dead were being disturbed, I think piously is misinterpreted here. Please see my answer which provides an alternative explanation.
    – verbose
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 4:43

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