Spiritism

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Allan Kardec, The Codifier of Spiritism

Spiritism is a doctrine codified in the 19th century by the French educator Allan Kardec. Spiritism soon spread to other countries, having today 35 countries represented in the International Spiritist Council.[1]

The first appearance of the term occurred in French literature with the publication of the The Spirits' Book. In this book, Kardec sought to distinguish spiritualism and Spiritism. Spiritualism is a name common to various religions, philosophies or other names, refers to the opposite of materialism.

Origins[edit]

Spiritism is based on the five books of the Spiritist Codification written by French educator Hypolite Léon Denizard Rivail under the pseudonym Allan Kardec reporting séances in which he observed a series of phenomena that were attributed to incorporeal intelligence (spirits). His work was later extended by writers like Léon Denis, Gabriel Delanne, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernesto Bozzano, Gustav Geley, Chico Xavier, Divaldo Pereira Franco, Waldo Vieira, Alexandr Aksakov, William Crookes, Oliver Lodge, Albert de Rochas, Amalia Domingo Soler and others.

Precursors[edit]

Developments leading directly to Kardec's research were the famous Fox sisters and the phenomenon of the Talking boards. Interest in Mesmerism also contributed to the early Spiritist practice.

Swedenborg[edit]

Emanuel Swedenborg, 75, holding the manuscript of Apocalypsis Revelata (1766).

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. Then at age fifty-six he entered into a spiritual phase of his life, where he experienced visions of the spiritual world and claimed to have talked with angels, devils, and spirits by visiting heaven and hell. He claimed of being directed by God, the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal the doctrines of His second coming.

From 1747 until his death in 1772 he lived in Stockholm, Holland and London. During these 25 years he wrote 14 works of a spiritual nature of which most were published during his lifetime. Throughout this period he was befriended by many people who regarded him as a kind and warm-hearted man. Many people disbelieved in his visions; based on what they had heard, they drew the conclusions that he had lost his mind or had a vivid imagination. But they refrained from ridiculing him in his presence. Those who talked with him understood that he was devoted to his beliefs. He never argued matters of religion, and if obliged to defend himself he usually did it with gentleness and in a few words.

Fox sisters[edit]

Fox sisters, left to right: Margaret, Kate, Leah

Sisters Catherine (1838–92), Leah (1814–90) and Margaret (1836–93) Fox played an important role in the creation 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 nothing but clever deception and fraud. Indeed, sister Margaret eventually confessed to using her toe-joints to produce the sound. And although she later recanted this confession, both 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, and contributing greatly to Kardec's ideas.

Talking boards[edit]

Just after the news of the Fox affair came to France, people became even more interested in what was sometimes termed the "Spiritual Telegraph". In the beginning, a table spun with the "energy" from the spirits present by means of human channeling. But, as the process was too slow and cumbersome, a new one was devised, supposedly from a suggestion by the spirits themselves: the talking board.

Early examples of talking boards were baskets attached to a pointy object 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"). The pointy object was usually a pencil.

Talking boards were tricky to set up and to operate. A typical séance using a talking board saw people sitting at a round table, 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, once written down by a scribe, would form intelligible words, phrases, and sentences. The system was an early, and less effective, precursor of the Ouija boards that later became so popular.

Allan Kardec first became interested in Spiritism when he learned of the Fox sisters, but his first contact with what would become the doctrine was by means of talking boards. Some of the earlier parts of his Spirits' Book were channeled this way.

Franz Mesmer[edit]

Franz Anton Mesmer

Franz Anton Mesmer (May 23, 1734 – March 5, 1815) discovered what he called magnétisme animal (animal magnetism) and others often called mesmerism. The evolution of Mesmer's ideas and practices led Scottish surgeon James Braid (1795–1860) to develop hypnotism in 1841.

Spiritism incorporated and kept some practices inspired or directly taken from Mesmerism. Among them, the healing touch, still in Europe, and the energization of water to be used as a medicine for spirit and body.

Difference from Spiritualism[edit]

Although there are many similarities between the two, they differ in some fundamental aspects, particularly regarding man's quest toward spiritual perfection and the manner by which the followers of each practice their beliefs.

Spiritism teaches reincarnation or rebirth into human life after death. This basically distinguishes Spiritism from Spiritualism. According to the Spiritist doctrine, reincarnation explains the moral and intellectual differences among men. It also provides the path to man's moral and intellectual perfection by amending 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.

Allan Kardec refers to Spiritism in What Is Spiritism? as 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. On the other hand, many spiritists don't see any problem about embracing it as a religion as well.

Finally, unlike Spiritualism, Spiritism is not a religious sect but a philosophy or a way of life by which its followers live by. Its followers have no priests or ministers and do not follow any religious rituals in their meetings. They also do not call their places of meetings churches, and instead call them by various names such as centers, society or association. 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[2] about Spiritism in his book History of Spiritualism confirming that Spiritism is Spiritualist (but not vice-versa). As a consequence, many Spiritualist works are widely accepted in Spiritism, particularly the works of scientists Sir William Crookes[3] and Sir Oliver Lodge.[4] Such works are more accepted in Anglo-Saxon spiritist communities than in Latin-American ones, though.

Beliefs[edit]

Spiritist Codification[edit]

The basic doctrine of Spiritism ("the Codification") is defined in five books written and published by Allan Kardec during his life.

Kardec also wrote a brief introductory pamphlet (What Is Spiritism?) and was the most frequent contributor to the Spiritist Review. His essays and articles would be posthumously collected into the Posthumous Works.

Fundamental principles[edit]

As defined in The Spirits' Book, the main principles of spiritism are:

  • "God is the Supreme Intelligence-First Cause of all things."[5]
  • "God is eternal, immutable, immaterial, unique, all powerful, sovereignly just and good."[6]
  • "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."[6]
  • "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"[7]
  • "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."[7]
  • "The soul possessed its own individuality before its incarnation; it preserves that individuality after its separation from the body."[7]
  • "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."[7]
  • "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."[7]
  • "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."[8]
  • "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."[9]

The Spiritist moral principles are in agreement with the ones taught by Jesus (according to Kardec[10]). Other moral examples like 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, Dr. Emma Bragdon and others.

Basic tenets[edit]

The five chief points of the doctrine are:[11][12]

  1. There is a God, defined as "The Supreme Intelligence and Primary Cause of everything";
  2. There are Spirits, all of whom are created simple and ignorant, but owning the power to gradually perfect themselves;
  3. 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;
  4. As part of Nature, Spirits can naturally communicate with living people, as well as interfere in their lives;
  5. Many planets in the universe are inhabited.

The central tenet of Spiritist doctrine is the belief in spiritual life. The spirit is eternal, and evolves through a series of incarnations in the material world. The true life is the spiritual one; life in the material world is just a short-termed stage, where the spirit has the opportunity to learn and develop its potentials. Reincarnation is the process where the spirit, once free in the spiritual world, comes back to the world for further learning.

Jesus as a model and guide[edit]

Jesus, according to Spiritism, is the greatest moral example for humankind, is deemed to have incarnated here to show us, through his example, the path that we have to take to achieve our own spiritual perfection. Therefore, Spiritism claims to be a Christian doctrine, claiming it is based on Jesus Christ's teachings, despite having an interpretation that differs from those held by the Church. The Gospels are studied and interpreted in Spiritism; some of the words of Christ or his actions are clarified in the light of the spiritual phenomena (presented as law of nature, and not as something miraculous).

Spiritual evolution[edit]

Spiritist doctrine stresses the importance of spiritual evolution. According to this view, humanity is destined for perfection; 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. Although not clear from Kardec's works, later spiritist writers elaborated on this point further, claiming humanity cannot detect more advanced life forms on other planets, as they are living in a slightly different plane, in the same way the spiritual plane is superimposed over this plane.

Mediumship[edit]

The communication between the spiritual world and the material world happens all the time, but to various degrees. Some people barely sense what the spirits tell them in an entirely instinctive way, and are not aware about their influence, while others have greater cognizance of their guidance. The so-called mediums have these natural abilities highly developed, and are able to communicate with the spirits and interact with them by several means: listening, seeing, or writing through spiritual command (also known by Kardecists as psychography or automatic writing).

Spiritist practice[edit]

Kardec's works do not establish any rituals or formal practices. Instead, the doctrine suggests that followers adhere to some principles regarded as common to all religions. The religious experience within spiritism is, therefore, largely informal. The exception to this is The National Spiritist Church of Alberta. This Church (which is fully recognized by the government as a religious denomination) has a Holy Communion Worship Service and a Marriage Ceremony in addition to the more standard Kardecist study groups.

Meetings[edit]

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 on some subject followed by some interactive participation of the attendants. These meetings are open to anyone.
  • Medium Meetings - usually held after a regular meeting, only those deemed prepared or "in need" of it are expected to attend.
  • Youth and Children's Meetings - once a week, usually on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings, are the Spiritist equivalent to Protestant Christian Sunday schools.
  • Healing
  • Lectures - longer, in-depth lectures on subjects thought to be "of general interest" which are held on larger rooms, sometimes at theatres or ballrooms, so that more people can attend. Lecturers are often invited from far away centers.
  • Special Meetings - special séances held in relative discretion which try to conduct some worthy work on behalf of those in need
  • Spiritist Week and Book fairs.
  • Church Services (in the case of The National Spiritist Church of Alberta - in Canada)

Organization[edit]

Spiritism is not seen as a religion by some of its followers because it doesn't endorse formal adoration, require regular frequency or formal membership and claims not to be opposed to science, instead trying to harmonize with it. There are exceptions, though, as in the country of Canada, where The National Spiritist Church of Alberta is a government-recognized religious denomination. For a large part 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 a Christian behavior which will bring spiritual and moral evolution to mankind. It should be noted, though, that there's no acceptance to Spiritism in mainstream science and that its belief system fits with the definition of religion.[13]

Spiritism is practiced in different types of associations (including a Church format in Canada) formal or not, which can have local, regional, national or international scope.

Local organizations are usually called Spiritist centres or Spiritist societies. Regional and national organizations are called "federations", as the Federação Espírita Brasileira[14] and the Federación Espírita Española,[15] while international organizations are termed "unions", such as the Union Spirite Française et Francophone.[16]

Spiritist centres (or Church in Canada) (especially in Brazil) are also often active book publishers and promoters of Esperanto.

Geographic distribution[edit]

Spiritism has adherents in many countries throughout the world, including Spain, United States, Canada,[17] Japan, Germany, France, England, Argentina, Portugal and especially in Latin American countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Brazil, which has among the largest proportion and greatest number of followers.[18]

In countries like Brazil the movement had spread and became widely accepted, mostly due to Chico Xavier's works. Today the official spiritist community has about 20 million adepts, though due to local syncretism, it is accepted and somehow practiced by three times as many across the country. Some statistics even mention an adherence to Spiritist practices by 40 million people in Brazil.[19]

Criticisms[edit]

Before World War I[edit]

Spiritism began attracting criticisms almost immediately once formulated. Kardec's own introductory book on Spiritism, What is Spiritism?, published only two years after The Spirits Book, includes a long dialogue between his persona and three idealized critics, "The Critic", "The Skeptic", and "The Priest", which as a whole summed up most of the criticism Spiritism has received since then: of being charlatanism, pseudoscience, heresy, anti-Catholic, witchcraft, and/or a form of Satanism. In further books and articles published in his periodical, the Revue Spirite, Kardec kept addressing these and other criticisms until his death in 1869.

Later, a new source of criticism came from Occultist movements such as the Theosophical Society, a competing new religion, which saw the Spiritist explanations as too simple or even naïve.[20]

Interwar period[edit]

The interwar period saw the development of a new form of criticism towards Spiritism: René Guénon's influential book The Spiritist Fallacy, which 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 that is distinct from and opposed to its two western predecessors, metempsychosis and transmigration.[21]

Post–World War II[edit]

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 2117) one can read that "Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it".

In Brazil, Catholic priests Dom Carlos Kloppenburg and Oscar González Quevedo, among others, have since the 1960s written extensively against Spiritism from both a doctrinal and parapsychologic perspective. Quevedo, in particular, has dedicated himself to show that Spiritism's claims of being a science are invalid, having not only written books on the subject[22] but also hosted paranormal debunking shows on television, the most recent of which a series that ran in 2000 on Globo's hugely popular Sunday prime time news show Fantástico.[23] Brazilian Spiritists, such as Dr. Hernani Guimarães Andrade, have in turn written rebuttals to these criticisms.[22]

Scientific skeptics also target Spiritism frequently in books, media appearances, and online forums, accusing it of being a pseudoscience. The medium and ex-spiritist Waldo Vieira, accepting this criticism but not the idea that it cannot become a science, left Spiritism willing to investigate the OBE-phenomenon in a new approach, called Projectiology.[24]

Recent history[edit]

Chico Xavier[edit]

Francisco Cândido Xavier (April 2, 1910 - June 30, 2002) was a popular medium in Brazil´s spiritism movement who wrote more than 450 books and about 10 thousand letters to family members of deceased people, ostensibly using psychography. His books sold millions of copies, all of which had their proceeds entirely donated to charity.

They included books on 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, which details one experience after dying, is available as a free e-book from the Spiritist Group of New York online.

Chico Xavier appeared on Brazilian television several times, contributing to the rise of spiritism in Brazil.

Popular culture[edit]

The following works or art contain allusions to facts, circumstances and concepts that resemble some spiritist beliefs:

Films[edit]

  • Chico Xavier, Brazilian film, casting Nelson Xavier and Ângelo Antônio. It was a box office success in Brazil. It tells history of the most famous Brazilian medium Chico Xavier.
  • Nosso lar, Nosso Lar ("Our Home" in direct translation, but distributed under the title 'Astral City: A Spiritual Journey' internationally) is a 2010 Brazilian drama film directed by Wagner de Assis, based on the novel of the same name by Francisco Cândido Xavier. The film is about the spiritual life after death and our home in another world. Distributed by 20th Century Fox and with a soundtrack composed by Philip Glass.

Soap operas[edit]

In Brazil four soap operas have used the concepts of Spiritism. Terra Nostra included a subplot of a young man obsessed by the spirit of his mother's youth lover who had been killed by his grandfather.

  • "A Viagem" (The Journey), produced in 1976/77 by the extinct Tupi TV had a complex plot involving mediumship, death, obsession, reincarnation, etc. It was remade by Globo TV in 1994.
  • "Alma Gêmea" (Soulmate), produced in 2005/06 by the Rede Globo. This soap tells the story of a woman that dies and is reborn to find her soulmate again.Ângelo Antônio
  • "O Profeta" (The Prophet), produced in 1977/78 also by Tupi TV and also 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,[25] who is a born-again Christian challenged by manifestations of his mediumship.
  • "Escrito nas Estrelas" (Written in the Stars), ongoing as of July 2010, possesses numerous spiritist themes: reincarnation, spirit evolution, and mediumship.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ International Spiritist Council, Members website.
  2. ^ Arthur Conan Doyle. (1926). The History of Spiritualism. New York: G.H. Doran, Co
  3. ^ William Crookes. (1874). Researches on the Phenomena of Spiritualism. Burns, London
  4. ^ Oliver Lodge. (1930). The Reality of a Spiritual World. E. Benn
  5. ^ Allan Kardec: The Spirits' Book, page 63.
  6. ^ a b Allan Kardec: The Spirits' Book, page 32.
  7. ^ a b c d e Allan Kardec: The Spirits' Book, page 33.
  8. ^ Allan Kardec: The Spirits' Book, page 33, 34.
  9. ^ Allan Kardec: The Spirits' Book, page 35.
  10. ^ Kardec, Allan, The Gospel Explained by the Spiritist Doctrine ISBN 0-9649907-6-8
  11. ^ A. T. Schofield. (2003) Modern Spiritism: Its Science and Religion. Kessinger Publishing
  12. ^ Lewis Spence. (2003). Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology. Kessinger Publishing
  13. ^ Jonathan Smith. (2009). Pseudoscience and Extraordinary Claims of the Paranormal: A Critical Thinker's Toolkit. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1405181228
  14. ^ FEB - Federação Espírita Brasileira - 2
  15. ^ Federación Espírita Española - Espiritismo
  16. ^ Redirection en htm
  17. ^ In Canada, Spiritism is an officially recognized religious denomination (unique in the world) as The National Spiritist Church of Alberta (Church #A145 registered by Department of Vital Statistics, Government of Alberta - under The Marriage Act of Alberta) with government-licensed clergy and legal authority to perform marriages.
  18. ^ David Hess. Spirits and Scientists: Ideology, Spiritism, and Brazilian Culture, Pennsylvania State Univ Press, 1991
  19. ^ Kardec's Spiritism: Home for Healing and Spiritual Evolution - Emma Bragdon, PhD
  20. ^ 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." 
  21. ^ Guénon, René (2004-06-25) [1923]. 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. 
  22. ^ a b Machado, Dr. Fátima Regina. "Parapsicologia no Brasil: Entre a cruz e a mesa branca" (in Portuguese). Ceticismo Aberto. Retrieved 2008-06-23. 
  23. ^ Guerrero, Cesar (2000-01-17). "Quevedo, o Mr. M de batina". IstoÉ Gente (in Portuguese). Editora Três. Retrieved 2008-06-23. 
  24. ^ Stoll, Sandra Jacqueline (2002). "Religião, ciência ou auto-ajuda? trajetos do Espiritismo no Brasil". Revista de Antropologia (in Portuguese) (São Paulo, Brazil: Departamento de Antropologia FFLCH/USP) 45 (2). doi:10.1590/S0034-77012002000200003. 
  25. ^ Duas Caras - BIOGRAFIA - Ezequiel

External links[edit]

Books[edit]

Groups and societies[edit]

Skeptical views[edit]

  • Channeling - at the Skeptics' Dictionary;
  • Medium - at the Skeptics' Dictionary;