Visitor - One thing I would like to know, sir, is the origin of modern Spiritist ideas. Are they really a spontaneous revelation by the spirits or are they the result of a prior belief in their existence? You can understand the importance of my question because in the latter case, one could believe that imagination might have played a role.
A.K. - A s you have put it, this question is important for such a point of view, although it is difficult to believe - assuming that Spiritist ideas were born ofa prior belief- that the imagination could have produced all the material results that have been observed. In fact, if Spiritism had been founded on the preconceived thought of the existence of spirits, one could, with some semblance of reason, doubt their reality, for if a cause is merely a pipe dream, the consequences themselves must be imaginary; however, things do not happen like that.
Note first that this line of reasoning is completely illogical. Spirits are a cause and not an effect; when we see an effect, we can look for the cause, but it is not natural to imagine a cause before having seen the effects. Thus, we couldn't conceive the idea of spirits unless there were effects that might be explained by the existence of invisible beings. Well, that is not the way the idea appeared; that is, it was not a hypothesis imagined in order to explain certain phenomena; the first supposition made about them was one of an entirely material cause. Thus, rather than spirits having been a preconceived idea, we started from a materialistic point of view.
And since this point of view was unable to explain everything, observation alone led to the spirit-related cause. I speak of modern Spiritist ideas since we know that the belief in spirits is as old as the world itself. This is how the matter progressed:
Spontaneous phenomena, such as strange noises, raps, movements of objects, etc., were produced without an ostensible cause and under the influence of certain persons. Up to this point, nothing had warranted looking for a cause other than the action of a magnetic or other fluid whose properties were still unknown. But it didn't take long to recognize an intentional and intelligent character in these noises and movements, from which it was deduced, as I have already stated, that if every effect has a cause, every intelligent effect must have an intelligent cause. This intelligence could not have resided in the object itself, because matter is not intelligent. Was it the reflection of the intelligence of the person or persons present? That is what was initially thought, as I have also stated. Experience alone could pronounce itself on the matter, and on many occasions, experience demonstrated, through irrefutable proofs, the complete independence of this intelligence. Thus, it had to be outside the object and outside the person. But what was it? The intelligence itself answered this question, stating that it belonged to the order of incorporeal beings called spirits. So, the idea of spirits was not a priori, nor was it even a posteriori; in other words, it did not come from the mind but was given by the spirits themselves, and everything we have learned about them ever since has been taught to us by the spirits themselves.
Once the existence of spirits was revealed and the means of communicating with them established, we were able to have continual conversations with them and to obtain information about their nature, the conditions of their existence and their role in the visible world. If we could interrogate the beings from the world of the infinitesimal in the same way, how many interesting things we could learn about them!
If we were to suppose that, before the discovery of America, there had been an electric wire stretched across the Atlantic, and that signs of intelligence were received at its European end, we would have concluded that there were Intelligent beings at the other end wanting to communicate; they could have been questioned and they would have answered. Thus, we would have acquired certainty of their existence, knowledge of their customs, their habits and way of living without having ever seen them. It was the same with the relations with the invisible world: the physical manifestations were like signals, a means of awareness that put us on the path to more regular and continuous communications. And remarkably, as easier means of communication became available, the spirits abandoned the primitive, insufficient and cumbersome nieans, just as the speech-impaired would give up sign language if they recovered their ability to speak.
Who were the inhabitants of this world? Were they separate beings outside of humanity? Were they good or evil? Once again, experimentation was entrusted with resolving these questions. But until numerous observations had thrown light on the subject, the field of conjectures and theories was wide open, and God knows how many appeared! Some believed spirits were superior in every way, whereas others saw them only as demons. It was by their own words and actions, however, that we were able to tell what they were. Let's suppose that, regarding the unknown transatlantic inhabitants we have just mentioned, some said good things, whereas others were noticed for the cynicism of their speech. This would lead us to conclude that there were good and bad ones. The same happened in the case of spirits: it was through a similar process that we discerned every degree of goodness and wickedness, ignorance and knowledge among them. Once enlightened about their faults and qualities, it fell to our own judiciousness to distinguish the good from the evil, the true from the false in their relations with us - exactly as we do with regards to humans.
Observation enlightened us not only about the moral qualities of spirits but also their nature and what we might call their physiological state. We learned from the spirits themselves that some are very happy and others very unhappy; that they are not separate beings of an exceptional nature, but the souls of those who used to live on the earth, where they had left their corporeal envelope behind; that they inhabit space, surround us aruT' continually rub elbows with us; that, through indisputable signs, anyone could recognize among them their relatives, friends and those whom they knew here on earth; that they could be followed in all the phases of their existence beyond the grave from the moment they left their bodies, and their situation could be observed according to their kind of death and the manner in which they had lived on the earth. Lastly, it was realized that they are not abstract, incorporeal beings, in the absolute sense of the word. They have an envelope, to which we gave the name perispirit, a sort of fluidic, vaporous, diaphanous body that is invisible in the normal state, but which, in certain cases and by a kind of condensation or molecular arrangement, can become momentarily visible and even tangible; hence, the phenomena of apparitions and the ability to touch them were explained. This envelope exists throughout the life of the body; it is the link between the spirit and matter. When the body dies, the soul, or spirit - which is the same thing — casts off only the coarse envelope and keeps the second one, much like when we remove an outer garment and keep only the one beneath, or when the seed of a fruit casts off the cortical envelope and keeps only the perisperm. It is this semi-material envelope of the spirit that is the agent of the different phenomena through which it manifests its presence.
Such is the story of Spiritism in a few words; once you have studied it in-depth, you will see and realize even better that everything concerning it is the result of observation and not a preconceived theory.