History of Spiritism


Spiritism formally started in France with the publication in 1857 of Le Livre des Esprits or The Spirits’ Book. The book was written by a French educator named Hippolyte Léon Dénizard Rivail under the pen name Allan Kardec. The book is a collection of answers from highly intelligent spirit beings based on several questions painstakingly prepared by Kardec, and deals about spirits, the spiritual world, existence of God, relation between the spirit and material world, man's destiny, morality and spiritual laws.

Kardec was influenced by many 19th century personalities, such as Franz Mesmer, Delphine Gay, Carlotti Friedrich Tiedeman and Camille Flammarion, the Fox sisters and the popularity of table-turning séances in his time. He did not claim that his doctrine was entirely new, but conceded that it was based on notions known to mankind since the greatest antiquity.

The great number of unexplained phenomena that were happening all over Europe and North America, most claiming to include the communication with dead souls, intrigued Rivail and led him to find a systematic, scientific approach to studying and explaining these observations. Using an international network of mediums, he prepared a large number of questions that he wanted answered by the spirits. The resulting comparison and analysis of all this vast material was the basis for the The Spirits’ Book.

The Spirits’ Book became an instant success in Europe and attracted many followers. Two years after its publication, Kardec formed the Parisian Society for Spiritist Studies which became a center for the study and practice of the Spiritist doctrine.

Kardec would later write Heaven and Hell, Genesis, Gospel According to Spiritism and Mediums' Book - which would become known, together with the The Spirits’ Book, as the “codification of the Spiritist doctrine”. The translation of these books in several languages quickly propagated Spiritism and attracted worldwide adherents to its teachings.

With his humanistic background, once he was convinced of the spiritual explanation for the phenomena that he investigated between 1855 and 1856, Kardec began looking for a way to turn the survival of the human soul (and communication with it) into something useful for humankind, in the social and ethical fields. Moreover, he thought that religions were becoming unable to lead men to effective moral improvements, due to their failure as human institutions. Science, concomitantly, grew wider than ever, bringing numerous direct benefits to man. Both factors together contributed to an increasing disbelief in human spirituality at all levels of European societies. Kardec saw in it an undesirable social tendency that should be reverted by a new paradigm for understanding reality. Its main characteristics would be:

  • Promoting the dialog between the three classical forms of knowledge (scientific, philosophical and religious) in order to achieve a deeper and wider comprehension of reality;
  • Providing access to knowledge for all people, instead of the "Hermetic" way philosophical and scientific knowledge had been produced;
  • Human relationship with the Spiritual without any institutional mediation. A natural spirituality would be enough and more appropriate for human realisation.

Spiritism in the 20th Century

After the death of Allan Kardec Spiritism continued to spread and was internationally famous. Many well educated people from Europe and the United States embraced Spiritism as a logical explanation of reality, including themes related to transcendence, such as God and afterlife. Thousands of Spiritist centres were founded throughout Europe, North America and, especially, Brazil and the Spiritist principles were so much disseminated in some countries that Spiritism was considered for inclusion in regular school and college programmes in Europe.

This situation continued until the First World War, which would be the beginning of the end of the fame of Spiritism. Later, with the ascension of totalitarian regimes in many European nations, a degree of repression took hold across the whole continent regarding Spiritism (and many other philosophical and political movements).

 Among the causes of this loss of popularity in the beginning of the 1900s, are a series of factors:

  • reaction of traditional religions
  • death of famous converts, like William Crookes, Arthur Conan Doyle and Camille Flammarion
  • development of scientific explanations for spiritual phenomena which were claimed by Spiritism (like the explanation of obsession by Psychoanalysis)
  • some scientists are still sceptical about important scientific believes of the doctrine which doesn't use the same nomenclatures ( such as electricity is not a "fluid", "animal magnetism" seems not exist, etc.)
  • Spiritists, esperantists, socialists, and others were also the target of repression by fascist regimes. Repression to Spiritism was particularly strong in Italy and Portugal.

Revival in South America

In South America, on the other hand, none of the above factors was enough to weaken the spreading of the doctrine. Catholicism was losing popular support, the government did not oppose Spiritism, most people were not aware of scientific discoveries and the religion had not spread only among the upper classes. Thanks to the works of a few dedicated preachers it managed to lay solid foundations which allowed it to survive as an important movement still today.

Such relocation occurred most successfully in Brazil, where more than 4 million people declare themselves "Kardecist Spiritists", according to the last IBGE census data, making Brazil the largest Spiritist country in the world.

The appearance of new leading personalities promoting the Spiritist doctrine like, Francisco "Chico" Candido Xavier, Waldo Vieira, Divaldo Pereira Franco, amongst many others in Brazil, has been reviving the interest in the afterlife communication, moral, charity and self-improvement not only in that country but in many other neighbouring countries, Africa, North America, Europe and Asia.