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Spiritism is a philosophical doctrine, established in Francemarker in the mid-nineteenth century.

Spiritism, or French spiritualism, is based on books written by French educator Hypolite Léon Denizard Rivail under the pseudonym Allan Kardec reporting séances in which he observed a series of phenomena that he attributed to incorporeal intelligence (spirits). His assumption of spirit communication was validated by many contemporaries, among them many scientists and philosophers who attended séances and studied the phenomena. His work was later extended by writers like Leon Denis, Arthur Conan Doyle, Camille Flammarion, Ernesto Bozzano, Chico Xavier, Divaldo Pereira Franco, Waldo Vieira, Johannes Greber and others.

Spiritism has adherents in many countries throughout the world, including Spain, United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, England, Argentina, Portugal and especially Brazil, which has the largest proportion and greatest number of followers.


The fundamental principles of Spiritism, enunciated by Allan Kardec in his seminal work The Spirits Book, are: (i) A belief in the existence of spirits - non-physical beings that live in the invisible or spirit world - and (ii) the possibility of communication between these spirits and living people through mediumship. There is a clear difference, according to Kardec, between the terms "Spiritism" and "Spiritualism"; the latter is the "opposite of materialism", a belief that "there is something...more than matter" but it does not necessarily follow that a spiritualist "believes in the existence of spirits, or in their communication with the visible world."

Spiritism had its background in the Spiritualist movement that emerged in the mid 1800s. In its broad sense, Spiritualism is any philosophical or religious movement that opposes materialism . In its narrower sense, it is any movement that believes that spirit entities exist and that human beings can engage in spirit communication and mediumship. Therefore, Spiritism is Spiritualist. Spiritualist Churches, however, differ from Spiritist groups in that Spiritualism as a religious denomination doesn't stress Reincarnation as a basic tenet of belief (some Spiritualists believe in Reincarnation and some don't, whereas Spiritists believe in Reincarnation as a basic tenet of their belief system)

Kardec reaffirmed that on the cover of his "The Spirit's Book". Another author in the Spiritualist movement, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle included a chapter about Spiritism in his book "History of Spiritualism" confirming that Spiritism is Spiritualist (but not vice-versa). As consequence, many Spiritualist works are widely accepted in Spiritism, particularly the works of scientists Sir William Crookes, and Sir Oliver Lodge .

In the early 20th century, the broad Spiritualist movement faded and the surviving ones in America and England reorganized themselves in a religious movement, incorporating many aspects of a church organization (mass, pastoral leadership, chants, donation baskets). In the USA the name Spiritualism has sometimes been used to address this group only.

Character of spiritism

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 philosofical doctrine with a scientific fulcrum and moral grounds. On the other hand, many spiritists don't see any problem about embracing it a as religion as well.

Spiritists pray to God, who is seen as the ultimate cause, or source, of all things and beings . Spiritist doctrine argues that God is perceived as a natural and somewhat necessary hypothesis within the Spiritist paradigm .

The Spiritist moral principles are in agreement with the ones taught by Jesus (according to Kardec). Other avatars like Francis of Assisi, Paul the Apostle, Buddha and Gandhi are also considered by the doctrine. 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 Sir William Crookes, Ernesto Bozzano, the Society for Psychical Research, William James, the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine winner Charles Richet, Prof. Ian Stevenson's group at University of Virginia , and Prof. G. Schwartz at University of Arizona .

The main characteristic of Spiritism is its emphasis on the study and investigation of the Spiritist Doctrine in its triple aspects, scientific, philosophical and religious (moral).

In general, Spiritism does not have an established organization of believers as members . Canadian National Spiritist Church of Alberta, however, is a government-recognized religious denomination and it has a registered and official membership.


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.


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

 ( Swedberg) (January 29, 1688 – March 29, 1772) was a Swedishmarker 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 Stockholmmarker, Hollandmarker and Londonmarker. 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

Sisters Catherine (1838–92), Leah (1814–90) and Margaret (1836–93) Fox played an important role in the creation of Spiritualism. 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, 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

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 (hence the term "medium". 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

Franz Anton Mesmer

Franz Anton Mesmer (May 23, 1734 – March 5, 1815) discovered what he called magnétism animal (animal magnetism) and others often called mesmerism. The evolution of Mesmer's ideas and practices led James Braid (1795-1860) to develop hypnosis in 1842.

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.


Spiritism blends together notions taken from Christianity, Positivism and Platonism.

Basic books

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

  1. The Spirits' Book — Defines the guidelines of the doctrine, covering points like God, Spirit, Universe, Man, Society, Culture, Morals and Religion.
  2. The Mediums' Book — Details the mechanics of the spiritual world, the processes involved in channeling spirits, techniques to be developed by mediums, etc.
  3. The Gospel According to Spiritism — Comments on the Gospels, highlighting passages that, according to Kardec, would show the ethical fundamentals shared by all religious and philosophical systems. This may be the first religious book to acknowledge the existence of life elsewhere in the Universe, based on Jesus' saying "The houses in the realm of my father are many" (John, 14, 1-3).
  4. Heaven and Hell — A didactic series of interviews with spirits of deceased people intending to establish a correlation between the lives they lead and their conditions in the beyond.
  5. The Genesis According to Spiritism — Tries to reconcile religion and science, dealing with the three major points of friction 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 would be posthumously collected into the aptly-named tome Posthumous Works.


The five chief points of the doctrine are:

  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.

Relation to Jesus

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. The Gospels are reinterpreted 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). It's only because of our own imperfection that we can't achieve similar things; as we evolve, we will not only understand better, but we will be able to do similar things, for all spirits are created equal, and are destined for the same end.

Evolution and karma

Spiritist Doctrine stresses the importance of spiritual evolution. According to this view, we are 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: it seems to them that we cannot detect more advanced life forms on other planets, as they are living in a slightly different plane from ours, in the same way the spiritual plane is superimposed over our own. There is still no scientific evidence to back this claim.


The communication between the spiritual world and the material world happen all the time, but to various degrees. Some people barely sense what the spirits tell them, in an entirely instinctive way, 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 psycography or automatic writing). Direct manipulation of physical objects by spirits is not possible; for it to happen the spirits need the help (voluntary or not) of mediums with particular abilities for physical effects.

Spiritist practice

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.


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 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)


Spiritism is not seen as a religion by its followers (except in the country of Canada where The National Spiritist Church of Alberta is a government-recognized religious denomination) 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. It should be noted, though, that there's no acceptance to Spiritism in mainstream science and that its belief system is largely coherent with the notion of religion (that doesn't include regular frequency, membership, formal adoration or declared opposition to science).

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 and the Federación Espírita Española , while international organizations are termed "unions", such as the Union Spirite Française et Francophone .

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


Spiritism shares its roots with many other religions and denominations, mainly Christianity and Western traditions. It is unknown the extent of the influence of Hinduism, Buddhism and Shamanism over the doctrinal aspects of Spiritism, as set by Allan Kardec because the mentions of such religions are sparse in all his works. Kardec, however, acknowledges the influence of Socrates and Plato, Jesus and Francis of Assisi; .

Spiritism in popular culture

Despite being little known by the population at large; many works or art contain allusions to facts, circumstances and concepts that resemble some spiritist beliefs:


  • Ghost, with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze was perhaps one of the earliest depictions of an after-life moderately similar to Spiritist teaching. It was highly popular among Brazilian Spiritists too. Swayze plays the role of a man that is killed by a petty thief, leaving his wife (Moore). He, as a ghost, makes contact with a "psychic" played by Whoopi Goldberg and manages to help his wife before finally leaving earth.
  • The Sixth Sense, starring Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis, is perhaps the better known film approaching the theme of Spiritism. Cole Sear (Osment's role) is a child medium facing the disbelief of everyone.
  • Shutter depicts a passably accurate situation of obsession, complete with physical manifestations and materialization of a spirit.
  • The Others (2001) depicts what happens to spirits who do not realize that they are actually in spirit form, resembling Spiritist doctrine.
  • [Passengers](2008) with Anne Hathaway and Patrick Wilson. Very similar to "The Sixth Sense" in spiritist themes.
  • Sole Survivor, a 1970 TV-film starring Vince Edwards and Richard Basehart, begins with a B-25 bomber crashing in the Libyan desert during WW2 and all crew members onboard dying. Decades later, the wreck is spotted and an Air Force team is sent to investigate the crash site. The spirits of the dead bomber crew, unaware of their disincarnate condition, are still there, waiting for a salvage expedition to find them. The behaviour of the dead in this story is in accord with Kardecist teachings and Spiritist theory.
  • Yesterday´s Children, based on a true story. A Mother's haunting dreams lead her to another place, another time, and a mysterious past... her own. Her past life and memories...children left...based on Jenny Cockle´s book.


  • Medium, a medium helps a District Attorney solve crimes.

  • Ghost Whisperer, a medium helps spirits with 'unfinished business' 'cross over'.

Soap operas

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.
  • "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, who is a born-again Christian challenged by manifestations of his mediumship.


Before World War I

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, who saw the Spiritist explanations as too simple or even naïve.

Interwar period

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.

Post-World War II

In Brazilmarker, Catholic priests Dom Carlos José Boaventura 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 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. Brazilian Spiritists, such as Dr. Hernani Guimarães Andrade, have in turn written rebuttals to these criticisms.

Scientific skeptics also target Spiritism frequently in books, media appearances, and online forums, accusing it of being a pseudoscience. The ex-spiritist and medium Waldo Vieira, accepting this criticism but not the idea that it cannot become a science, left Spiritism to start a new, Spiritist-inspired movement called Projectiology.

See also


  1. Johannes Greber
  2. 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.
  3. David Hess. Spirits and Scientists: Ideology, Spiritism, and Brazilian Culture, Pennsylvania State Univ Press, 1991
  4. Kardec, Allan. The Spirit Book, Introduction, I.
  5. spiritualism: Definition and Much More from
  6. DOYLE, Arthur Conan. The History of Spiritualism. New York: G.H. Doran, Co. 1926
  7. CROOKES, William. Researches on the Phenomena of Spiritualism, Burns, London 1874
  8. Kardec, Allan, The Gospel Explained by the Spiritist Doctrine ISBN 0-9649907-6-8
  11. FEB - Federação Espírita Brasileira - 2
  12. Federación Espírita Española - Espiritismo
  13. Redirection en htm
  14. The Sixth Sense (1999)
  15. Sole Survivor - Vince Edwards, Richard Basehart, William Shatner, Lou Antonio - 1970
  16. Duas Caras - BIOGRAFIA - Ezequiel

External links


Groups and societies

Skeptical views

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

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