Spiritism is a spiritualistic philosophy codified in the 19th century by the French educator Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, under the codename Allan Kardec, it proposed the study of "the nature, origin, and destiny of spirits, and their relation with the corporeal world". Spiritism soon spread to other countries, having today 35 countries represented in the International Spiritist Council.
Spiritism postulates that humans are essentially immortal spirits that temporarily inhabit physical bodies for several necessary incarnations to attain moral and intellectual improvement. It also asserts that spirits, through passive or active mediumship, may have beneficent or maleficent influence on the physical world.
The term first appeared in Kardec's book, The Spirits' Book, which sought to distinguish Spiritism from spiritualism.
Spiritism has influenced a social movement of healing centers, charity institutions and hospitals involving millions of people in dozens of countries, with the greatest number of adherents in Brazil. Spiritism was also very influential in the new Vietnamese religion called Cao Đài or Caodaism, born in 1926 after three spirit mediums received messages that identified Allan Kardec as a prophet of a new universal religion. After 1975, Caodaism was almost closed down by the Vietnamese government, but it has now re-emerged on the public scene and Caodaists recently visited the Kardec Spiritist Center in Lyon to re-establish contacts with the legacy of French Spiritism. There are about four million Caodaists in Vietnam and in the Vietnamese diaspora, so they are the largest Spiritist group in Asia.
Spiritism is based on the five books of the Spiritist Codification written by French educator Hypolite Léon Denizard Rivail under the pseudonym Allan Kardec, in which he reported observations of phenomena at séances that he attributed to incorporeal intelligence (spirits). His work was later extended by writers such as Léon Denis, Gabriel Delanne, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernesto Bozzano, Gustav Geley, Chico Xavier, Divaldo Pereira Franco, Emídio Brasileiro, Alexandr Aksakov, William Crookes, Oliver Lodge, Albert de Rochas, and Amalia Domingo Soler. Kardec's research was influenced by the Fox sisters and the use of talking boards. Interest in Mesmerism also contributed to early Spiritism.
Emanuel Swedenborg (January 29, 1688 – March 29, 1772) was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, seer, and theologian. Swedenborg had a prolific career as an inventor and scientist. At 56, he claimed to have experienced visions of the spiritual world and talked with angels, devils, and spirits by visiting heaven and hell. He claimed he was directed by the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal the doctrines of his second coming.
Swedenborg, however, warned against seeking contact with spirits. In his work Apocalypse Explained, #1182.4, he wrote, "Many persons believe that man can be taught by the Lord by means of spirits speaking with him. But those who believe this, and desire to do so, are not aware that it is associated with danger to their souls." See also Heaven and Hell #249
Nevertheless, Swedenborg is often cited by Spiritists as a major precursor for their beliefs.
Sisters Catherine (1838–92), Leah (1814–90) and Margaret (1836–93) Fox played an important role in the development of Spiritism. The daughters of David and Margaret Fox, they were residents of Hydesville, New York. In 1848, the family began to hear unexplained rapping sounds. Kate and Margaret conducted channeling sessions in an attempt to contact the presumed spiritual entity creating the sounds, and claimed contact with the spirit of a peddler who was allegedly murdered and buried beneath the house. A skeleton later found in the basement seemed to confirm this. The Fox girls became instant celebrities. They demonstrated their communication with the spirit by using taps and knocks, automatic writing or psychography, and later even voice communication, as the spirit took control of one of the girls.
Skeptics suspected this was deception and fraud, and sister Margaret eventually confessed to using her toe-joints to produce the sound. Although she later recanted this confession, she and her sister Catherine were widely considered discredited, and died in poverty. Nonetheless, belief in the ability to communicate with the dead grew rapidly, becoming a religious movement called Spiritualism, which contributed significantly to Kardec's ideas.
After the news of the Fox sisters came to France, people became more interested in what was sometimes termed the "Spiritual Telegraph". In its early form, a table spun with the "energy" from the spirits present by means of human channeling. As the process was too slow and cumbersome, the talking board was devised, supposedly from a suggestion by the spirits themselves. A typical séance using a talking board had people seated at a round table, with feet resting on the chairs' supports and hands on the table top or, later, on the talking board itself. The energy channeled from the spirits through their hands made the board spin around and find letters which were written down by a scribe to form words.
Early examples of talking boards, were baskets attached to a pointed object—usually a pencil—that spun under the hands of the mediums, to point at letters printed on cards scattered around, or engraved on, the table. Such devices were called corbeille à bec ("basket with a beak"). By the 1860s. Planchette,the precursor of the pencil-less Ouija boards, simplified the writing process which achieved widespread popularity in America and Europe.
Allan Kardec first became interested in spiritualism when he learned of the Fox sisters, but his ideas about Spiritism were based on his experiences with talking boards. Some of the earlier parts of his Spirits' Book were channeled this way.
Franz Anton Mesmer (May 23, 1734 – March 5, 1815) discovered what he called magnétisme animal (animal magnetism), which became known as mesmerism. The evolution of Mesmer's ideas and practices led Scottish surgeon James Braid (1795–1860) to develop hypnotism in 1841.
Difference from spiritualism
Although there are many similarities, Spiritism differs from spiritualism in a number of ways, particularly regarding the goal of spiritual perfection and the manner by which the followers of each practice their beliefs.
Spiritism teaches reincarnation or rebirth into human life after death, distinguishing it from Spiritualism. According to Spiritist doctrine, reincarnation explains the moral and intellectual differences among men. It also provides the path to moral and intellectual perfection by redeeming for his mistakes and increasing his knowledge in successive lives. For this reason, Spiritism does not accept rebirth in animals as this would be retrogressive.
In What Is Spiritism?, Kardec calls spiritism a science dedicated to the relationship between incorporeal beings (spirits) and human beings. Thus, some spiritists see themselves as not adhering to a religion, but to a philosophical doctrine with a scientific fulcrum and moral grounds. However, many spiritists see no conflict in embracing it as a religion as well.
Unlike spiritualism, Spiritism is not a religious sect but a philosophy or a way of life. They have no priests or ministers and do not follow any religious rituals in their meetings. Their activities consist mainly of studying the Spiritist doctrine, applying spiritual healing to the sick, and organizing charitable missions.
Another author in the Spiritualist movement, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle included a chapter about Spiritism in his book History of Spiritualism, in which he states that Spiritism is Spiritualist, but not vice versa. As a consequence, many Spiritualist works are widely accepted in Spiritism, particularly the works of 19th century physicists William Crookes and Oliver Lodge. Such works are more accepted in Anglo-Saxon spiritist communities than by those in Latin-America.
The basic doctrine of Spiritism ("the Codification") is defined in five of Allan Kardec's books:
- The Spirits' Book—defines the guidelines of the doctrine, covering concepts such as God, Spirit, Universe, Man, Society, Culture, Morals and Religion;
- The Mediums' Book—makes claims about the mechanics of the spiritual world, such as the processes involved in channeling spirits, techniques to be developed by mediums;
- The Gospel According to Spiritism—comments on the Gospels, highlighting passages that Kardec believed represent the ethical fundamentals shared by all religious and philosophical systems;
- Heaven and Hell—purports to provide interviews with spirits of deceased people intending to establish a correlation between the lives they led and their conditions in the beyond;
- The Genesis According to Spiritism—attempts to reconcile religion and science, dealing with three major conflicts between the two: the origin of the universe (and of life, as a consequence) and the concepts of miracle and premonition.
Kardec also wrote a brief introductory pamphlet (What Is Spiritism?) and was the most frequent contributor to the Spiritist Review. His essays and articles were posthumously collected into the Posthumous Works.
As defined in The Spirits' Book, the main principles of spiritism are:
- "God is the Supreme Intelligence-First Cause of all things."
- "God is eternal, immutable, immaterial, unique, all powerful, sovereignly just and good."
- "A spirit is not an abstract, undefined being, only to be conceived of by our thought; it is a real, circumscribed being, which, in certain cases, is appreciable by the senses of sight, hearing, and touch."
- "All Spirits are destined to attain perfection by passing through the different degrees of the spirit-hierarchy. This amelioration is effected by incarnation, which is imposed on some of them as an expiation, and on others as a mission. Material life is a trial which they have to undergo many times until they have attained to absolute perfection"
- "A spirit's successive corporeal existences are always progressive, and never retrograde; but the rapidity of our progress depends on the efforts we make to arrive at the perfection."
- "The soul possessed its own individuality before its incarnation; it preserves that individuality after its separation from the body."
- "On its re-entrance into the spirit world, the soul again finds there all those whom it has known upon the earth, and all its former existences eventually come back to its memory, with the remembrance of all the good and of all the evil which it has done in them."
- "Spirits exert an incessant action upon the moral world, and even upon the physical world; they act both upon matter and upon thought, and constitute one of the powers of nature, the efficient cause of many classes of phenomena hitherto unexplained or misinterpreted."
- "Spirits are incessantly in relation with men. The good spirits try to lead us into the right road, sustain us under the trials of life, and aid us to bear them with courage and resignation; the bad ones tempt us to evil: it is a pleasure for them to see us fall, and to make us like themselves."
- "The moral teaching of the higher spirits may be summed up, like that of Christ, in the gospel maxim, 'Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you;' that is to say, do good to all, and wrong no one. This principle of action furnishes mankind with a rule of conduct of universal application, from the smallest matters to the greatest."
According to Kardec, the Spiritist moral principles are in agreement with those taught by Jesus. Other individuals such as Francis of Assisi, Paul the Apostle, Buddha and Gandhi are also sometimes considered by the spiritists. Spiritist philosophical inquiry is concerned with the study of moral aspects in the context of an eternal life in spiritual evolution through reincarnation, a process believers hold as revealed by Spirits. Sympathetic research on Spiritism by scientists can be found in the works of Oliver Lodge, William Crookes, William Fletcher Barrett, Albert de Rochas, Emma Bragdon, Alexander Moreira-Almeida and others.
- There is a God, defined as "The Supreme Intelligence and Primary Cause of everything";
- There are Spirits, all of whom are created simple and ignorant, but owning the power to gradually perfect themselves;
- The natural method of this perfection process is reincarnation, through which the Spirit faces countless different situations, problems and obstacles, and needs to learn how to deal with them;
- As part of Nature, Spirits can naturally communicate with living people, as well as interfere in their lives;
- Many planets in the universe are inhabited.
The central tenet of Spiritist doctrine is the belief in spiritual life. From this perspective, the spirit is eternal, and evolves through a series of incarnations in the material world. It asserts that life in the material world is a short-term stage, where the spirit has the opportunity to learn and develop its potential. Reincarnation is considered the process where the spirit, once free in the spiritual world, comes back to the world for further learning.
Spiritist views of Jesus
Spiritists consider Jesus to be the greatest moral example for humankind. They believe he incarnated on earth to demonstrate the path to achieve spiritual perfection. In this way, Spiritism identifies as a form of Christianity, claiming it is based on Jesus Christ's teachings, despite having an interpretation that differs from those held by mainstream Christian denominations. The Gospels are studied and interpreted in Spiritism; it asserts that some of Jesus' words and actions are clarified in the light of the spiritual phenomena (presented as law of nature, and not as something miraculous).
Spiritist doctrine stresses the importance of spiritual evolution. According to this view, humanity is destined for perfection, and there are other planets hosting more advanced life forms and happier societies, where the spirit has the chance to keep evolving both in the moral and intellectual sense. Later spiritist writers have claimed humanity cannot detect more advanced life forms on other planets because they are living in a slightly different plane, in the same way the spiritual plane is superimposed over this plane.
Spiritists assert that communication between the spiritual world and the material world happens all the time, to varying degrees. They believe that some people barely sense what the spirits tell them in an entirely instinctive way, and are not aware about their influence. In contrast, they believe that mediums have these natural abilities highly developed, and are able to communicate with spirits and interact with them visually or audibly, or through writing (known by Kardecists as psychography or automatic writing).(See The Book of Mediums by Allan Kardec Chapters X to XIII)
Kardec's works do not establish any rituals or formal practices. Instead, the doctrine suggests that followers adhere to some principles common to all religions. The religious experience within spiritism is, therefore, largely informal.
The most important types of practices within Spiritism are:
- Regular meetings—with a regular schedule, usually on evenings, two or three times a week. They involve a short lecture followed by some interactive participation of the attendees. These meetings are open to anyone;
- Medium meetings—usually held after a regular meeting, only those deemed prepared or "in need" are expected to attend;
- Youth and children's meetings—once a week, usually on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings; the Spiritist equivalent to Protestant Christian Sunday schools;
- Lectures—longer, in-depth lectures to a broader audience on subjects thought to be "of general interest", sometimes at theatres or ballrooms, often given by guest speakers;
- Special meetings—séances held discretely, intended to conduct some worthy work;
- Spiritist week and book fairs.
Spiritist associations have various degrees of formality, with some groups having local, regional, national or international scope. Local organizations are usually called Spiritist centres or Spiritist societies. Regional and national organizations are called federations, such as the Federação Espírita Brasileira and the Federación Espírita Española; international organizations are called unions, such as the Union Spirite Française et Francophone. Spiritist centres (especially in Brazil) are often active book publishers and promoters of Esperanto.
For many of its followers, the description of Spiritism is three-fold: science, for its studies on the mechanisms of mediumship; philosophy, for its theories on the origin, meaning and importance of life; and religion, for its guidance on Christian behavior which will bring spiritual and moral evolution to mankind. Spiritism is not considered a religion by some of its followers because it does not endorse formal adoration, require regular frequency or formal membership. However, the mainstream scientific community does not accept Spiritism as scientific, and its belief system fits within the definition of religion.
Spiritism has adherents in many countries, including Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Jamaica, Japan, Portugal, Spain, United States, and particularly in Latin American countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil, which has the largest proportion and greatest number of followers. The largest Spiritist group in Asia are the Vietnamese followers of Cao Đài or Caodaists, who formed a new religion building on the legacy of Allan Kardec in 1926 in Saigon and Tây Ninh in what was then French Indochina
In Brazil, the movement has become widely accepted, largely due to Chico Xavier's works. The official spiritist community there has about 20 million adepts, although some elements of spiritism are more broadly accepted and practiced in various ways by three times as many people across the country. Some statistics suggest an adherence to Spiritist practices by 40 million people in Brazil.
Before World War I
Since its early development, Spiritism has attracted criticism. Kardec's own introductory book on Spiritism, What is Spiritism?, published only two years after The Spirits' Book, includes a hypothetical discussion between him and three idealized critics, "The Critic", "The Skeptic", and "The Priest", summing up much of the criticism Spiritism has received. The broad areas of criticism relate to charlatanism, pseudoscience, heresy, witchcraft, and Satanism. Until his death, Kardec continued to address these issues in various books and in his periodical, the Revue Spirite.
During the interwar period a new form of criticism of Spiritism developed. René Guénon's influential book The Spiritist Fallacy criticized both the more general concepts of Spiritualism, which he considered to be a superficial mix of moralism and spiritual materialism, as well as Spiritism's specific contributions, such as its belief in what he saw as a post-Cartesian, modernist concept of reincarnation distinct from and opposed to its two western predecessors, metempsychosis and transmigration.
Post–World War II
In Brazil, Catholic priests Carlos Kloppenburg and Oscar González Quevedo, among others, have written extensively against Spiritism from both a doctrinal and parapsychological perspective. Quevedo, in particular, has sought to show that Spiritism's claims of being a science are invalid. In addition to writing books on the subject, he has also hosted television programs debunking supposed paranormal phenomena, most recently in a series that ran in 2000 on Globo's news program, Fantástico. Brazilian Spiritist, Hernani Guimarães Andrade, has in turn written rebuttals to these criticisms.
Chico Xavier (April 2, 1910 – June 30, 2002) was a popular spiritist medium and philanthropist in Brazil's spiritism movement who wrote more than 450 books and about 10,000 letters to family members of deceased people, ostensibly using psychography. His books sold millions of copies, all of which had their proceeds donated to charity.
They purportedly included poetry, novels, and even scientific treatises, some of which are considered by Brazilian spiritist followers to be fundamental for the comprehension of the practical and theoretical aspects of Allan Kardec's doctrine. One of his most famous, The Astral City, details one experience after dying.
Xavier appeared on Brazilian television several times, contributing to the rise of spiritism in Brazil.
In popular culture
The following works contain concepts related to spiritist beliefs:
- Chico Xavier, Brazilian film, casting Nelson Xavier and Ângelo Antônio. A box office success in Brazil, it tells the story of Brazilian medium Chico Xavier.
- Nosso lar, (literally "Our Home", but distributed under the title Astral City: A Spiritual Journey internationally) is a 2010 Brazilian film directed by Wagner de Assis, based on the novel of the same name by Chico Xavier about spiritual life after death.
In Brazil, a number of soap operas have plots incorporating Spiritism.
- "A Viagem" (The Journey), produced in 1976/77 by Tupi TV, involving mediumship, death, obsession, reincarnation, etc. It was remade by Globo TV in 1994.
- "Alma Gêmea" (Soulmate), produced in 2005/06 by Rede Globo, tells of a woman who dies and is reborn to find her soulmate again.
- "O Profeta" (The Prophet), produced in 1977/78 by Tupi TV and remade by Globo TV (2006/07), included spiritism as one of the philosophies trying to explain the main character's gifts, including being able to predict the future.
- "Duas Caras" (Two-Face), aired by Rede Globo in 2007/8, includes a character named Ezekiel, who is a born-again Christian challenged by manifestations of his mediumship.
- "Escrito nas Estrelas" (Written in the Stars), ongoing as of July 2010, includes various spiritist themes including reincarnation, spirit evolution, and mediumship.
- "Além do Tempo" (Beyond Time), ongoing as of October 2015, also includes many spiritist themes, including a second phase in which the characters reincarnate, in order to show the ongoing fights between them, and also that in future incarnations, your social class changes, being that low class characters come back as rich people and vice versa.
- Moreira-Almeida, Alexander (2008).Allan Kardec and the development of a research program in psychic experiences. Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association & Society for Psychical Research Convention. Winchester, UK.
- International Spiritist Council, Members website.
- Lucchetti G, Daher JC Jr, Iandoli D Jr, Gonçalves JP, Lucchetti AL. Historical and cultural aspects of the pineal gland: comparison between the theories provided by Spiritism in the 1940s and the current scientific evidence.. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2013;34(8):745-55. Indexed on PubMed.
- Hoskins, Janet Alison 2015. The Divine Eye and the Diaspora: Vietnamese Syncretism Becomes Transpacific Caodaism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 15, 36, 45, 51,63. ISBN 978-0-8248-5140-8.
- Hoskins, Janet Alison 2015. The Divine Eye and the Diaspora: Vietnamese Syncretism Becomes Transpacific Caodaism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 123-25, 250. ISBN 978-0-8248-5140-8.
- Hoskins, Janet Alison 2015. The Divine Eye and the Diaspora: Vietnamese Syncretism Becomes Transpacific Caodaism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 4, 239. ISBN 978-0-8248-5140-8.
- Sargent, Epes, Planchette or, The Despair of Science, Roberts Brothers, Boston, 1869
- Arthur Conan Doyle. (1926). The History of Spiritualism. New York: G.H. Doran, Co
- William Crookes. (1874). Researches on the Phenomena of Spiritualism. Burns, London
- Oliver Lodge. (1930). The Reality of a Spiritual World. E. Benn
- Allan Kardec: The Spirits' Book, page 63.
- Allan Kardec: The Spirits' Book, page 32.
- Allan Kardec: The Spirits' Book, page 33.
- Allan Kardec: The Spirits' Book, page 33, 34.
- Allan Kardec: The Spirits' Book, page 35.
- Kardec, Allan, The Gospel Explained by the Spiritist Doctrine ISBN 0-9649907-6-8
- A. T. Schofield. (2003) Modern Spiritism: Its Science and Religion. Kessinger Publishing
- Lewis Spence. (2003). Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology. Kessinger Publishing
- The Book of Mediums
- FEB TI. "Federação Espírita Brasileira / FEB - Conteúdo espírita em artigos, notícias, estudo, pesquisa, especialmente para você.". febnet.org.br.
- "Federación Espírita Española - Espiritismo". espiritismo.cc.
- "Orange". orange.fr.
- Jonathan Smith. (2009). Pseudoscience and Extraordinary Claims of the Paranormal: A Critical Thinker's Toolkit. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1405181228
- David Hess. Spirits and Scientists: Ideology, Spiritism, and Brazilian Culture, Pennsylvania State Univ Press, 1991
- Hoskins, Janet Alison 2015. The Divine Eye and the Diaspora: Vietnamese Syncretism Becomes Transpacific Caodaism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 4, 239. ISBN 978-0-8248-5140-8
- Kardec's Spiritism: Home for Healing and Spiritual Evolution - Emma Bragdon, PhD
- Blavatsky, H. P. (1875-02-16). "Letter to Prof. Hiram Corson". Some Unpublished Letters of H. P. Blavatsky. Theosophical University Press Online Edition. Retrieved 2008-06-23.
In my eyes, Allan Kardec and Flammarion, Andrew Jackson Davis and Judge Edmonds, are but schoolboys just trying to spell their A B C and sorely blundering sometimes.
- Guénon, René (2004-06-25) . The Spiritist Fallacy. Collected Works of René Guénon. trans. Alvin Moore, Jr. and Rama P. Coomaraswamy. Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis Books. ISBN 0-900588-71-3.
- "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Holy See. Retrieved 2015-02-02.
- Machado, Dr. Fátima Regina. "Parapsicologia no Brasil: Entre a cruz e a mesa branca" (in Portuguese). Ceticismo Aberto. Retrieved 2008-06-23.
- Guerrero, Cesar (2000-01-17). "Quevedo, o Mr. M de batina". IstoÉ Gente (in Portuguese). Editora Três. Retrieved 2008-06-23.
- Playfair, Guy Lyon. Chico Xavier, Medium of the Century. Roundtable Publishing, 2010, ISBN 0-9564493-1-X
- Langellier JP. Un homme insignifiant. Le Monde, 12/05/2010.
- Moreira-Almeida, Alexander. Scientific research on mediumship and mind-brain relationship: reviewing the evidence (In Portuguese). Rev. psiquiatr. clín. vol.40 no.6 São Paulo 2013.
- "Astral City: A Spiritual Journey". IMDB.
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- The Spirits' Book by Allan Kardec (PDF)
- The Book on Mediums by Allan Kardec (PDF)
- The Gospel According To The Spiritism by Allan Kardec (PDF)
- The Spirits' Book, translated by Anna Blackwell
- Heaven and Hell by Allan Kardec (PDF)
- Genesis by Allan Kardec (PDF)
- ALLAN KARDEC: Free PDF spiritist books in several languages