What is Spiritism?

Allan Kardec

Back to the menu
Visitor - You say you are supported by facts, but you are opposed by the opinion of learned individuals who either contest them or who explain them differently than you. Why didn't they focus on the turning tables phenomenon? If they had seen anything serious about it, it seems to me that they would not have neglected such extraordinary occurrences, nor would they have rejected them with disdain; however, they are all against you. Aren't learned individuals the guiding light of the nations, and isn't it their duty to spread the light? Why do you suppose they have stifled it when given such a fine opportunity to present to the world the existence of a new force?

A.K. — You have just described the duty of learned individuals quite admirably, and it's unfortunate that they have neglected it on more than one occasion. But before responding to your judicious observation, I must inform you that you are gravely mistaken by saying that all learned individuals are against us.

As I stated just a while ago, it is precisely among the enlightened classes in all the countries of the world that Spiritism has won the most converts. Among them there are a large number of physicians from every nation, and as we know, physicians are men and women of science; the judges, professors, artists, writers, officials, high-ranking public servants, major dignitaries, ecclesiastics, etc. who have gathered under its banner are all persons whom we would not deny as possessing a certain dose of enlightenment. Learned persons are not only to be found within official science and within established organizations.

Because Spiritism doesn't yet have the right to citizenship in official science, is that a reason to condemn it? If science had never been mistaken, its opinion would carry weight in this case; unfortunately, experience has shown otherwise. Hasn't science rejected as pipe dreams a multitude of discoveries that later glorified the memories of their authors? Isn't it due to a report by our elite corps of scholars that France was deprived of the steam power enterprise? When Fulton came to the field at Bologna to present his theory to Napoleon I, who then recommended its immediate examination to the Institute, didn't the Institute conclude that such a theory was an impractical dream and that it didn't have the time to bother with it? From this should we conclude that the members of the Institute are unlearned? Does it justify the coarse and tasteless epithets that certain persons enjoy heaping on them? Of course not. There isn't one sensible person who doesn't praise their eminent knowledge, while realizing that they are not infallible and that their judgment is not final, especially when it comes to new ideas.

Visitor - I will be the first to admit that they are not infallible; but it is no less true that, in virtue of their knowledge, their opinion is worth something, and that if you had them on your side, it would give a lot of weight to your theory.

A.K. - But you must also admit that you are only a good judge within your area of competence. If you wanted to build a house, would you employ a musician? If you were ill, would you let yourself be treated by an architect? And ifyou wanted to file a lawsuit, would you consult a dancer? Lastly, ifyou had a theological question, would you go to a chemist or an astronomer for an answer? No. To each their own specialty. The regular sciences rest upon the properties of matter, which can be manipulated at will; the phenomena that it produces have material forces as their agents. The phenomena of Spiritism have as their agents intelligent beings, endowed with independence and free will and not subject to our whims; they are not bound by our laboratory procedures or calculations, and are not, therefore, within the scope of science per se.

Science was thus mistaken when it wanted to experiment with spirits the same way it did with a voltaic battery. It failed - as it well should have - because it proceeded, based on an analogy that doesn't exist. And then, without going any further, its conclusions were negative. It was a rash judgment, which time has been rectifying day by day, just as it has done with many others. Those who judged it hastily will be ashamed at having so thoughtlessly set themselves against the infinite power of the Creator.

The scientific community cannot, and never will be able to make a statement on this issue; it is as much outside of their area, of competence as it is for them to say whether or not God exists; thus, it is an error to accept their judgment. Spiritism is a matter of personal belief that cannot depend on the vote of an assembly, because such a vote, even if favorable, cannot force conviction. Once public opinion is formed on the matter, scholars will accept it as individuals and submit to the force of things. Let this generation pass, and with it the prejudices of its obstinate self- centeredness and you will see that what happens with Spiritism will be no different from what has happened to so many other contested truths that one would be foolish to question nowadays. Today, believers are the ones who are being called mad; tomorrow, it will be the turn of those who do not believe, just as those who believed the earth spun on its axis used to be called crazy.

Not all learned individuals have judged Spiritism in the same way, however, and by learned individuals I mean individuals of study and knowledge, with or without an official degree. Many have made the following argument:

"There is no effect without a cause, and the most ordinary effects may lead the way to the most difficult problems. If Newton had disregarded the fall of an apple, if Galvani had dismissed his servant as a lunatic and dreamer when he told him about the frogs that danced on the plate, perhaps we still would not have discovered the wonderful law of universal gravity and the numerous properties of the electric battery. The phenomenon sarcastically labeled as the "dance of the tables" is no more ridiculous than the "dance of the frogs", and it too perhaps contains one of those secrets of nature that will revolutionize humankind once it possesses the key.

These learned individuals have stated further: "Since so many people are occupied with spirit phenomena, and since trustworthy individuals have studied them, then there must be something to rJiem after all. An illusion - if you will - cannot have this character of generality; it might bewitch a certain circle or faction, but not the whole world. So let's guard against denying the possibility of what we do not understand, dreading to be proven wrong sooner or later, which would not be very flattering to our judiciousness."

Visitor - Very well, we are talking about a learned individual who reasons with wisdom and prudence; and although I'm not a learned individual myself, I agree with him. Notice, however, that he affirms nothing: he doubts. Thus, on what, exactly, are we to base the belief in the existence of spirits, and especially, the possibility of communicating with them?

A.K. - This belief is based on both reasoning and the facts.

I myself did not adopt it until after careful examination. My study of the exact sciences gave me the habit of positivist thinking, which requires thought and analysis, and I probed and scrutinized this new science in its innermost details. I wanted to account for everything because I do not accept an idea before I know the whys and hows. Here is the reasoning I got from an erudite physician who used to be a disbeliever but who is now a fervent adherent:

"It is said that invisible beings communicate; and why not? Before the invention of the microscope, did we suspect the existence of the billions of microscopic organisms that cause such harm to the body? Why is it materially impossible for there to be beings in space that escape our senses? Would we perchance harbor the foolish pretense of knowing everything and tell God that he has nothing more to teach us? If these invisible beings surrounding us are intelligent, why couldn't they communicate with us? If they are in any way related to human beings, they must perform a role in destiny and life's events. Who knows? Maybe it is one of the forces of nature, one of those hidden forces that we never even suspected. What a new horizon this would open up to our thought! What a vast held of observation! The discovery of the world of invisible beings would be much different than the world of the inhnitely small; it would be more than a discovery - it would be a revolution in our way of thinking. How much light could be shed! How many mysteries explained! Those who believe in it are ridiculed, but what does that prove? Hasn't it been the same with all great discoveries? Wasn't Christopher Columbus rebuffed, met with disgust and treated as insane? These ideas, it is said, are so strange that no one can believe in them. But anyone who would have said only a half century ago that we would be able to correspond from one part of the world to another in only a few minutes; that we could cross France in just a few hours; that with the steam produced by a little boiling water a ship could go forward against the wind; that we could derive from water the means of providing ourselves with light and warmth; that it would be possible to illuminate all of Paris in an instant with only a reservoir of an invisible substance - surely such a person would have been laughed at. Well then, would it be so utterly exceptional for space to be populated by thinking beings, who, after having lived on the earth, left their material envelopes behind? Don't we find in this fact the explanation of a multitude of beliefs that may be traced back to remotest antiquity? Such matters are well worth delving into."

Such are the thoughts of a learned individual, but an unpretentious one. They are also the thoughts of a huge number of enlightened persons who have understood, not superficially and narrowly, but who, after having examined the matter seriously and without any preconceptions, have had the modesty not to say: I do not understand it; therefore, it does not exist. Their convictions were formed by observation and reasoning. If these ideas were a passing fancy, do you think that such an intellectual elite would have adopted them? That they could have been victims of an illusion for so long?

Hence, it is not materially impossible for there to be beings invisible to us populating space, and this consideration alone should lead to more circumspection. A short time ago, who would have thought that a drop of clear water could contain thousands of beings so small that it would boggle our minds? I would say that it was much harder for our minds to conceive of such subtle beings, having all our organs and functioning like us, than to believe in the beings that we call spirits.

Visitor — Of course, but just because something might be possible doesn't mean that it actually exists.

A.K. — I agree, but you must concur that, the moment it ceases to be impossible, that is an important start because it is no longer repugnant to reason. All that remains is to verify it by observing the facts. This is nothing new: sacred and secular history have both demonstrated the ancientness and universality of this belief, which has continued through all the unexpected changes in the world, and which can be found among the most primitive peoples in the form of innate and intuitive ideas engraved on their minds like the belief in the Supreme Being and the future existence. Spiritism, therefore, is not a modern creation — far from it; everything proves that the ancients knew about it as well as we do and perhaps even better, except that it was taught only with mysterious precautions that rendered it inaccessible to the common folk, who were intentionally left in the quagmire of superstition.

As for the phenomena, they are of two natures: some are spontaneous and some are induced. Among the spontaneous phenomena, we list the highly common visions and apparitions, in addition to noises, raps or movements of objects without apparent physical cause. Also listed are a large number of unusual effects that used to be regarded as supernatural, but which nowadays seem so common to us that we find nothing supernatural about them since they all belong to the realm of the immutable laws of nature. As for induced phenomena, they are the ones that are obtained through mediums.

Related articles

Show related items