What Spiritism is and what it is not
Updated: 5 days ago
What Is Spiritism
Let’s start by understanding why “Spiritism” instead of “Spiritualism”. In his first published book, The Spirits’ Book, Allan Kardec, an accomplished scholar and the founder or Spiritism notes that:
“New terms are necessary to clearly convey new ideas and to avoid the inevitable confusion that ensues from using the same term for expressing different ideas. The terms spiritual, spiritualist, and spiritualism each have a given meaning that is specific. To attribute a new meaning to these words by applying it to Spiritism merely increases the numerous causes of ambiguity that already exist. In fact, spiritualism is the opposite of materialism. Anyone who believes to be something more than matter is a spiritualist. It does not follow, however, the belief in the existence of spirits or their communication with the physical world. It is with this distinction in mind that we avoid the use of spiritual and spiritualism and instead, use Spiritist and Spiritism to describe the latter belief. These words indicate their origin and root meaning, and have the advantage of being perfectly clear and understandable. Therefore, we reserve the word spiritualism for its commonly accepted meaning and the central principle of Spiritism as the relationship of the physical world with spirits or beings that inhabit the invisible world. We refer to the adherents and supporters of Spiritism as Spiritists. The Spirits’ Book contains the principles of Spiritism, which is generally associated with the spiritualist school, of which it presents one perspective. This is why Spiritualist Philosophy appears at the top of the title page [of The Spirits’ Book]. (Kardec, 1857)
Spiritism is a Science of observation and philosophical studies that deals with the nature, origin and destiny of spirits, as well as their relationship with the physical world. As a practical science, it consists in the relationships established between physical and non-physical entities and as a philosophy, it encompasses all moral consequences derived from those very relationships.
“Spiritism proceeds in the same way as the positive sciences, by using the experimental method. When facts of a new kind are observed, facts that cannot be explained by known laws, it observes, compares and analyzes them. Reasoning then from the effects to the causes, it discovers the laws which govern them. Then it deduces their consequences and seeks for useful applications. Spiritism proposes no preconceived theory (…) Thus, it is rigorously correct to say that Spiritism is an experimental science, not the product of imagination. The sciences have not made real progress before they adopted the experimental method. This method has hitherto been taken as applicable only to matter, but in truth it is equally applicable to metaphysical things. ” (Kardec, 1868)
“Until now, the study of the spiritual principle, considered as belonging to metaphysics, has been purely speculative and theoretical; but in Spiritism it is treated as entirely experimental. In mediumship, currently more developed, generalized, and better studied, humankind has found a new observation tool. Mediumship is, with respect to the spiritual world, what a telescope is for the astronomical world, and the microscope for the microscopic world, helping us to explore, study, and— we might say— eyewitness the relationships of the spiritual world with the corporeal world. In the mediumistic phenomena, we can observe the intelligent being separately from the material being.” (Kardec, 1868)
I, personally, consider it a foundational toolset that provides a baseline for the emergence of a new science that explores the cosmos from a multidimensional perspective. This may seem mystical and utopic at first, but note, for instance, that the military and secret service agencies of multiple countries have utilized paranormal faculties for special projects and research for years. They invest on it because the positive payoffs justify the decision! It would take years of research and at least a full large book to draw a fair picture of the potential revolution that awaits us when science is developed from an integrative, multidimensional perspective that consider all human higher faculties, those presently called paranormal. It goes beyond the so-called “vibrational medicine” and includes the use of information obtained through mediumistic ways to positivistic research. Imagine, for instance, the progress to be made in fields such as archeology and history through the use of psychometry, and access to the akashic records of relevant individuals that lived the history we try to uncover.
This integrative science cannot afford mystical excesses, neither any form of dogmatism or skepticism. Kardec, envisioned this and developed the scientific foundation necessary for working scientifically with the invisible world. He stressed, for instance, that we should be very careful in attributing to spirits all sorts of phenomena that are unusual or that we do not understand:
“I cannot stress this point enough; we need to be aware of the effects of imagination. (…) When an extraordinary phenomenon is produced— we insist—the first thought should be about a natural cause, because it is the most frequent and the most probable.” (Kardec, 1857)
An excellent article about “Allan Kardec and the Development of a Research Program in Psychic Experiences” was elaborated by Alexander Moreira-Almeida.
Spiritism, similarly to several other sciences not embraced by the contemporary academic field, has been largely overlooked although many of those interested in integrating science and spirituality eventually come across it. Emma Bragdon, PhD provides some interesting comments on this regard:
“Kardec was probably the first to attempt to add the study of the life of spirits to the arena of science. However, he has been largely overlooked in history because of some influential but prejudiced people who dismissed him during his lifetime. William James, PhD, considered the father of American psychology, became fascinated with psychic phenomena in 1880 and served as President of the Society for Psychical Research from 1894 to 1895. He felt it was essential that scientists research psychic phenomena and mediumship because it is clearly a branch of human experience that profoundly affects all our lives. Unfortunately, this arena of study is still marginalized, as conventional scientific researchers find it difficult to study a world that is largely invisible and unpredictable. As a doctoral student at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in the 1980s I was not exposed to Kardec’s writing or the hospitals and Spiritist Centers of Brazil; nor was this subject part of my undergraduate studies in psychology. Was I asleep during class? No, Kardec and Spiritism have simply not been recognized in psychology, religion, or medicine in North America. Psi phenomena and mediums have been largely dismissed, and one risks being professionally marginalized if one becomes involved in studying these subjects that are still considered a quasi-religious anomaly. There are doctors in the USA who are sympathetic to what Spiritism offers. Melvin Morse, MD, known for his work with children and near-death experience (Morse and Perry 2001), has been a keynote speaker at the Spiritist Medical Association (AME) (2010). Dr. Morse has also been quite involved in researching remote viewing and the nature of dissociative experiences. (…) Larry Dossey, MD, author of books on the power of prayer (1997), has corresponded with Brazilians around research protocols. Harold Koenig, MD (Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health), and Christina Puchalski, MD (Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health), have each given presentations for AME. But these outstanding leaders teaching about spirituality and medicine have had little exposure to Spiritism and its hospitals in Brazil. Rosters of those attending AME conferences in Europe show there are many more doctors there who are interested in Spiritism. In the USA, more paraprofessionals are interested in Spiritism than doctors. In 2008 there were three AME conferences given in European countries and one in the USA. Spiritism is actually not so foreign to those who study complementary psychotherapy. Rational Emotive Therapy (Ellis and Blau 2000) closely resembles the bedrock of Spiritist therapies that developed out of Kardec’s work because it also encourages training the mind to think positively and rationally, but Rational Emotive Therapy does not have the spiritual depth of Spiritism. The shamanic work of “Soul Retrieval” (Ingerman and Harner 2006) has a spiritual viewpoint similar to Spiritism, and it also reconnects patients with fragmented and lost parts of themselves, and encourages reframing one’s history in a positive light; however, Spiritism relies more on the work of mediums, and mediums unlock doors to other dimensions— and important sources of information— that are not usually available to practitioners of Rational Emotive Therapy or Soul Retrieval. (Bragdon, 2012)
To conclude this section, it is fair we add some direct quotes from Allan Kardec himself about Spiritism.
“Spiritism is, no doubt, a Science of observation but, perhaps, it is even more a Science of reasoning, and reason is the only means that can make it progress and triumph over certain resistances. Such fact is only contested because it is not understood. That is why we see every day creatures that have seen nothing and believe, just because they understand whereas others saw and don’t believe because they don’t understand. Making Spiritism walk the path of reason, we make it acceptable by those who wish to know the why and how of everything, and their number is high in this century, since blind belief is no longer in our customs. Well, had we only indicated the route we would have the conscience of having contributed to the progress of this new Science, object of our constant studies.” (Kardec, 1859)
“Spiritism is the new Science that comes to reveal to men, through indisputable proofs, the existence and nature of the spiritual world and its relationship with the corporeal world. It shows to us no longer as a super natural thing but, on the contrary, as one of the living and restlessly acting forces of nature, like the source of an immense number of phenomena hitherto misunderstood and thus thrown to the domain of fantastic and marvelous. It is to these relationships that Christ refers to in multiple situations yielding much of his teachings remained unintelligible or falsely interpreted. Spiritism is the key with which everything is easily explained.” (Kardec, 1864)
“Spiritism proclaims freedom of thought as a natural law; calls it to his followers, in the same way for everyone. It respects all sincere faiths and requests reciprocity. From freedom of thought derives the right to self-examination in matters of faith. Spiritism rejects any form of blind faith, because they require men to surrender their own reason; it considers rootless all faiths imposed: Unshakable faith is only one which can confront reason face to face in all epochs of humanity.” (Kardec, 1890)
“Spiritism is a moral Doctrine that fortifies the religious sentiments in general and applies to all religions. That feeling belongs to all and to none in particular. Hence it does not tell anybody to change it. Leave to each one the freedom to adore God at each ones taste and to observe the practices dictated by conscience, since God takes more the intention than the fact into account. Go then, each to the temple of your cult and thus prove that you are calumniated when said to have no piety.” (Kardec, 1862)
What Spiritism is Not
Spiritism differs from all known religions, by demonstrating the logic of its teachings through scientific studies and experiments, and by presenting a philosophy that is also based on experimentation and observation. Spiritism does not intend to negate or demolish religions. It relates to them as the fields of philosophy or ethics do, caring only for the pursuit to intellectual and moral perfection.
“What the teaching of the Spirits adds to the morality of Christ is the knowledge of the principles governing the relations between dead and alive, principles that complete the vague notions they had of the soul, its past and its future; sanctioning the Christian doctrine through the very laws of Nature. With the aid of the new lights that Spiritism and Spirits spread, Humankind finds itself in solidarity with all beings and understands this solidarity; charity the fraternity becomes a social necessity; mankind begins to do with conviction that which it did only out of duty, and does it better.” (Kardec, 1868)
Spiritism does not embrace dogmas, rituals, symbols, or organized clergy hierarchy and does not adopt any of the following as part of its meetings or practices as, indeed, it is NOT a religion.
card reading, fortune-telling, or similar types of predictions;
payment for charity work or assistance offered;
alters, images, adorns, candles, incense, myrrh, smoke, special adornments;
talismans, charms, amulets, or any other similar objects;
miraculous prayers, hymns or songs in exotic or antiquated languages;
extravagant rituals or stage performance designed to impress the public;
dances, processions, and other similar acts;
consumption of any alcoholic beverages.
“Spiritism is not a new religion as some people pretend it to be because they don’t know it, or a new sect that is formed by taking advantage of older ones. It is a purely moral doctrine with no dogmas and that allows each person the entire freedom of religion since it imposes none. A demonstration of that is the fact that its most enthusiastic followers are among the most devoted Catholics as among Protestant, Jews and Muslims. Spiritism has never advised anyone to change religion or sacrifice their beliefs. It does not really belong to any religion or better still, it is present in all of them.” (Kardec, 1861)
“Spiritism is not a personal design or the result of a preconceived system. It is the result of thousands of observations on all parts of the world, which were converged to a center that has collected and coordinated them. All its constituent principles, without exception, are deducted from experience.” (Kardec, 1890)
So, if Spiritism is NOT a religion, what are the differences between its morality and that of traditional religions and materialism?
Not all elements of the table above will be explained at this point. This understanding will be developed over time in this work.
Anachronism is defined as the action of attributing something to a period to which it does not belong. It takes place, for instance, when objects, people, customs and events are portrayed in the wrong way, at the wrong time or in an age that is not correct as per their invention or use – Hollywood knows it well! Now, why I mentioned it here? Well, those interested in studying Spiritism directly from Kardec’s writings (which is highly advised) must make some efforts to restore the original meaning of the text. Ignoring the natural anachronism of philosophic and spiritualist texts written over 150 years ago in a completely different cultural context and in the French idiom has been a source of frustration, misconceptions and plain mistakes to countless people. This section provides some guidance for navigating this issue better. It aims to restore the original meaning of certain key words and concepts so a better understanding of what Kardec meant when writing them can be attained. This can be performed by extracting those definitions from the works of philosophical sciences’ professors contemporary to Kardec. Now, note that the concepts and statements as noted below are not, strictly speaking, part of the body of knowledge of Spiritism. They simply support the understanding of their common semantics at that time.
Pleasure/Pain vs. Recompense/Punishment
As understood at the time, pleasure and pain strictly speaking are physical sensations. However, scholars at the time used the words “recompense” and “punishment” when referring to pleasure and pain springing from moral grounds. This terminology is nowadays archaic and have significantly different meanings. Punishment, in particular, evokes the idea of an authoritative figure imposing its laws by force.
“Pleasure, considered as the consequence of well-doing, is called recompense; and pain, considered as the legitimate consequence of evil, is called punishment.” (Janet, 1884)
Senses, Appetites, Passions vs .Intelligence, Sentiments, Will
“We distinguish in man a double nature, body and soul; and in the soul itself two parts, one superior, one inferior; one more particularly deserving of the name of soul, the other more carnal, more material, if one may say so, which comes nearer the body. In one class we have intelligence, sentiments, will; in the other, senses, appetites, passions. Now, that which distinguishes man from the lower animal is the power to rise above the senses, appetites, and passions, and to be capable of thinking, loving, and willing.” (Janet, 1884)
Duty and Obligation
“Duty is that law by which we are held to do the right and avoid the wrong. It is also called the moral law. (…)There is, then, in every man a certain knowledge of the law, that is to say, a natural discernment of the right and the wrong. This discernment is what is called conscience, or sometimes the moral sense. Conscience is an act of the mind, a judgment. But it is not only the mind that is made aware of the right and the wrong, it is the heart.(…) moral good consists in man becoming truly man—that is to say, “A free will, guided by the heart and enlightened by reason. (…)This law, which prescribes to us the doing right for its own sake, is what is called moral law or the law of duty. It is a sort of constraint, but a moral constraint, and is distinguished from physical constraint by the fact that the latter is dictated by fate and is irresistible, whilst the constraint of duty imposes itself upon our reason without violating our liberty. This kind of necessity, which commands reason alone without constraining the will, is moral obligation. To say that the right is obligatory is to say, then, that we consider ourselves held to do it, without being forced to do it. On the contrary, if we were to do it by force it would cease to be the right. It must therefore be done freely, and duty may thus be defined an obligation consented to.” (Janet, 1884)
“(…) man or the moral agent is free, when he is in a condition to choose between right and wrong, and able to do either at his will. Liberty always supposes one to be in possession of himself. Man is free when he is awake, in a state of reason, and an adult. He is not free, or very little so, when he is asleep, or delirious, or in his first childhood.” (Janet, 1884)
(This list will continue to be amended as needed – if you think a specific term may need further clarifications, please contact us – Thank you!)
Bragdon, Emma. 2012. Spiritism and Mental Health: Practices from Spiritist Centers and Spiritist Psychiatric Hospitals in Brazil. 2012. ISBN 978-1-84819-059-7.
Janet, Paul. 1884. Elements of Morals: With Special Application of the Moral Law to the Duties of the Individual and of Society and the State. s.l. : The Floating Press, 1884. ISBN 978-1-77658-369-0.
Kardec, Allan. 1868. Genesis. 1868.
Kardec, Allan. 1890. Posthumous Works. 1890.
Kardec, Allan. 1864. The Gospel According to Spiritism. 1864.
Kardec, Allan. 1863. The Spiritist Review: Jornal of Psychological Studies. 1863.
Kardec, Allan. 1861. The Spiritist Review: Jornal of Psychological Studies. 1861.
Kardec, Allan. 1859. The Spiritist Review: Jornal of Psychological Studies. 1859.
Kardec, Allan. 1860. The Spiritist Review: Jornal of Psychological Studies. 1860.
Kardec, Allan. 1862. The Spiritist Review: Jornal of Psychological Studies. 1862.
Kardec, Allan. 1857. The Spirits’ Book. 1857.