Kardecist Spiritism

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It has been proposed that this article or section be merged with Spiritism.

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Other meanings: "Spiritism" is also used as a synonym, usually pejorative, for Spiritualism; uncapitalised, it is an archaic term for beliefs such as animism that involve spiritual beings,

Kardecist Spiritism or Kardecism is a spiritualistic doctrine created in the 19th century by Allan Kardec. Its largest body of followers is by far that of Brazil, where it is one of the main established beliefs and called just "Spiritism" (Espiritismo in Portuguese).

By its own definition, Spiritism is not a religion -- albeit taken so by many people, including many followers -- because it lacks a series of attributes normally associated with conventional religions. For example, Spiritism has no formal structure, hierarchy, rituals, or cults, at least in the form that was prescribed by Allan Kardec in its books. Kardec himself defined it as a doctrine of philosophic and moral consequences. It is a system of teachings that tries to explain, within fairly strict logical guidelines, the existence of spirits and its relationship with the material world. However, the fact that its moral system borrows heavily from Christianity, added to the fact that it occupies itself with theological concepts, makes its classification as a religion unavoidable from a neutral point of view.

From Christianity, Spiritism borrows the moral guidelines of the Gospel, and then adds its own clarifications. For example, some passages of the Gospel are explicitly reinterpreted to support the belief in reincarnation. The resulting doctrinary differences with most Christian denominations are rather noticeable and thus Spiritism cannot be considered a sect of Catholicism, Protestantism or Orthodox Christianity.

The relationship between Spiritism and science is conflicting. Kardec claims to have made extensive use of the scientific methodology available at the time to pursue his investigation on the spirits. However, many principles that are taken by its followers as scientific evidence are still heavily based on the personal testimony of the mediums. The same goes for the experience of spiritual healing, that is accepted by Kardecists as a proof of the influence of the spirit over the matter. Such claims are dismissed by skeptics as based on self-deception or charlatanism.

Spiritist doctrine relies extensively on messages received from spirits, some of them communicating under the name of famous deceased persons. Most Spiritist authors such as Chico Xavier claim to be merely mediums for spirits, who actually "psychographed" their books.



Allan Kardec (whose real name was Hyppolyte Leon Denizard Rivail) was born in Lyon, France in 1804. A disciple and collaborator of Pestalozzi, he spoke several languages, and taught mathematics, astronomy, physiology, French, physics, chemistry, and comparative anatomy. Rivail was already in his early fifties when he first became interested in the wildly popular phenomenon of spirit-rapping. At the time, strange events attributed to the action of spirits were reported in many different places, most notably in the US and in France, attracting the attention of the high society. The first events were at the best frivolous and entertaining, featuring objects moving or 'tapping' under what was said to be spiritual control. In some cases, there was a primitive type of communication; the so-called spirits would answer simple questions by controlling the movement of the objects as to pick letters to form words, or just to say 'yes' or 'no'.

At the time, Franz Mesmer's theories on animal magnetism were popular on the upper circles of society. When confronted with the events described above, many scientists (including Rivail and some of his peers) pointed out that the animal magnetism could explain the physical effects observed. At first, Rivail thought that this was a good explanation for what he had heard. However, after seeing personally a demonstration, he quickly dismissed the animal magnetism thesis, as not to be sufficient to totally explain all the facts he observed. Rivail was determined to understand exactly what was the cause behind the physical effects popularly attributed to the spirits.

As an academic with a solid scientific background, Rivail decided to do his own research. Not being a medium himself, he compiled a list of questions, and started working together with mediums and channelers to ask the spirits about them. Just as he did start to question the spirits, the quality of the communications improved dramatically. In 1857, Rivail (signing as Allan Kardec) published his first book on Spiritism, called The Spirit's Book. It comprised a series of 1018 questions, exploring issues related to the nature of spirits, the spiritual world, and the relationship between the spiritual world and the material world. It was followed by a series of books, the most important one being The Gospel According to Spiritism and by a periodic publication, the Revue Spirite, that Kardec published up to his death.

The name Allan Kardec appeared first when some of the spirits whom Rivail was communicating told him about a previous incarnation where he was a druid with that name. Rivail liked it, and decided upon using it, to keep his work as a spiritualist writer apart from his work as an academic.

Through his works, Kardec made clear that he was not proposing a new religion, but a new doctrine. The difference is clearly marked by the lack of formal structure or rites involving spiritist practice. In true Spiritism, there are no rituals; a few practices are recommended, in generic terms, such as praying and doing charity work, but not specific gestures or words are ever cited. Most of the rituals that people observe today are derived either from later adaptations of the doctrine, or from mixups that resulted as people from different religious background started to accept and practice it.

Kardec defined spiritism as a practical science, hence the scientific aspect of the doctrine as defended by its followers. According to Kardec's own words, "spiritism is at the same time a observational science and a philosophical doctrine. As a science, it consists in the relationships that can be stablished with the spirits; as a philosophy, it comprehends all the moral consequences that can be caused by those relationships".

During the late 19th century, many well educated people from Europe and the United States embraced Spiritism as a logical explanation of themes related to the Christian Revelation. However, most of the initial enthusiasm receded. But in some places the work of a few dedicated preachers managed to achieve a solid foundation -- more notably, in Brazil, and to a certain extent in the Philippines. In Brazil, more than 2 million people declare themselves Kardecist spiritists, according to the last IBGE census data, which makes Brazil the largest Spiritist country in the world.

Spiritism has influenced syncretisms like Brazilian Umbanda and Vietnamese Caodaism.


The central tenet of Spiritism is the belief in the 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 practice and to experience everything he has learnt over his spiritual life. Reincarnation is the process where the spirit, once free in the spiritual world, comes back to the world.

Christ is deemed to be the spiritual guide of the entire planet, and he incarnated here to show us, through his example, the path that we have to take to achieve our own spiritual perfection. The Gospel is reinterpreted in Spiritism; some of the words of Christ or his actions are clarified, at the light of the spiritual phenomena, that is presented as law of nature, and not as something miraculous. It's only because of our own imperfection that we can't operate similar things; as we evolve, we will not only understand it better, but we will be able to do similar things, for all spirits are created equal, and are destined for the same end.

As pointed out above, Spiritism stresses the importance of the spiritual evolution. According to this belief, we are destined for perfection; it's only because of our own failures that we keep reincarnating in this same planet. There are other planets hosting more advanced lifeforms, and happier societies, where the spirit has the chance to keep evolving both on the moral and intellectual sense. Although not clear from Kardec's works, later writers explain this point a little bit better; it seems that we cannot detect more advanced life forms in other planets, as they are living in a slight different plane from ours, in the same way the spiritual plane is superimposed over our own plane. There is no scientific evidence to back this claim, despite the still unfruitiful attempts to apply concepts from modern physics - quantum theory, multiple universes and so on - to explain it.

The communication between the spiritual world and the material world happens all the time, but at a varied level. Some people barely sense what the spirits tell them, in a instinctive way, while others have greater conscience of the fact. The so-called mediums have these natural abilities highly developed, being able to communicate with the spirits and interact with them by several means: listening, seeing, or writing through spiritual command (also know by kardecists as psychography). Direct manipulation of physical objects by spirits is also possible; however, for it to happen the spirits need the help (voluntary or not) of mediums with particular abilities for physical effects.

Spiritist Practices

Kardec's works do not stablish any strict rituals or formal practice for spiritists followers. Instead, the doctrine implicitly suggests that followers adhere to a few principles:

  • Practice of Christian principles, abstaining of all evil, and looking forward for any opportunity to learn and improve in moral terms;
  • Respect for the others; all spirits are free to do as they see fit, but also every spirit is ultimately responsible for its own actions, and the law of evolution will take care of any misbehavior sooner or later. It's not our role to judge other people's behavior, although we have to seize every opportunity to teach the others through our own example and practice;
  • Praying is deemed to be important to allow oneself to stay in tune with his spiritual friends and protectors. Praying helps to clear the mind from bad feelings and prepares the spirit for higher achievements. The prayer not need to follow a strict formulae, but it has to come from within the follower, and it has to express their true belief and dedication to God;
  • Doing charity work is of utmost importance. According to the doctrine, we should be willing to donate not only material resources, but also our better share of love and care for the less fortunate.

Actual practice of Spiritism includes a few activities, whose form vary widely from place to place. In some cases, more or less ellaborated rituals might be involved, despite the lack of explicit doctrinal prescription. Some spiritist groups specialize themselves on the mediunic activity, invoking the spirits of deceased persons for charitable ends. In some cases, the work involves helping a spirit that died an unfortunate or unexpected death, and is unaware of its true state. Other more complex cases involve dealing with revolted spirits, or dealing with spirits that are seeking vengeance against incarnated people. In all cases, Kardecist approach should be one of love and understanding for all spirits involved, incarnated or not.

Another important venue of practice for spiritists is charity work. Most spiritist centers maintain some kind of charitable activity. It's common for a center to specialize on one type of assistance, for example: elder people, poor pregnant woman and mothers with newborn babies or abandoned children. In such cases, assistance can range from educational activities, supply of food or medication, and social integration, up to the maintenance of private asylums for the unassisted. These entities are maintained by donations from the community at large, which in many cases includes people that are not spiritists, but feel comfortable about doing so due to the transparent work done by those centers.

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