The late nineteenth century saw the emergence of a popular campaign against compulsory vaccination in Britain. For obvious reasons, this campaign has attracted the attention of historians in recent years. Some scholars have pointed to the class dynamics which informed the growth of the movement. Others have pointed to the influence of evangelical Christianity within the movement. Still others have identified anti-vaccinationism as a liberal cause. This article identifies one overlooked factor in the development of nineteenth-century vaccine skepticism: the influence of esotericism. A surprising number of prominent anti-vaccination campaigners were also promoters of Swedenborgian thought and Swedenborgian ideas influenced their writing on the subject of vaccination. Drawing on contemporary analysis of the phenomenon of “conspirituality,” I argue that conspirituality existed far earlier than some scholars suggest and that—in fact—conspirituality was a facet of vaccination skepticism during the nineteenth century.
Esotericism; Victorian; Vaccination; Swedenborgianism; medical history.