What is Spiritism?

Allan Kardec

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Visitor — You mentioned the means of communication; could you give me an idea about them since it is hard to understand how these invisible beings can converse with us?

A.K. - Gladly; I will do so only briefly, however, because it would demand long drawn-out explanations that you can find particularly in The Mediums' Book. But the little I will tell you will suffice to set you on the path of the mechanism, and will help you, above all, to better understand some of the sessions you might attend while awaiting your full initiation.

The existence of the semi-material envelope, or perispirit, is a key that explains many things and demonstrates the possibility of certain, phenomena. As for the means per se, they are quite varied and depend either on the degree of purity of the spirits themselves or on the particular dispositions of the persons who serve as their intermediaries. The most common one — the one we might call universal - consists of intuition, that is, of the ideas and thoughts they suggest to us; but this method is little considered in most cases. There are others that are more dependable.

Certain spirits communicate by raps, answering either yes or no, or designating individual letters to form, words. These raps may be obtained by spirits tilting an object - a table, for example, that strikes one of its legs on the floor; but quite often, they make themselves heard within the actual material of the object, without the object making any movement at all. This primitive approach is slow and doesn't easily lend itself to communicating lengthier ideas. Writing has replaced it and is obtained in different ways. At first, we used a movable object such as a small planchette, a basket or a box, to which we attached a pencil whose point rested on the paper. We still use this method at times. The nature and substance of the object doesn't matter. The medium places his or her hands on the object, transmitting to it the influence he or she receives from the spirit, and the pencil writes the letters. But properly speaking, this object is nothing more than an extension of the hand, a sort of pencil holder. We have since recognized that it is pointless to use this intermediary object because it merely complicates the process. Its sole merit was that it physically established the mediurns' independence, but they can write just as well by holding the pencil themselves.

Spirits can also express themselves by transmitting their thoughts through articulated sounds that either resound in the air or in the ears, as well as through the mediums voice, through sight, drawings, music, and other means that a thorough study would reveal. For these different means, mediums have special aptitudes connected with their physical and mental make-up. Thus we have physical effects mediums, that is, those who are able to produce physical phenomena such as raps, the movement of objects, etc. There are also hearing, speaking, seeing, drawing, musical and writing mediums. This last faculty is the most common, the most easily developed through practice; it is also the most valuable because it allows for the most regular and the quickest communications.

There are several kinds of writing mediums, two of which are very distinct. In order to understand them, we must understand how the phenomenon occurs. The spirit sometimes acts directly on the mediums hand, to which it gives an impulse that is completely independent of the medium's will. The medium has no awareness of what is being written: this is the mechanical medium. In other cases, the spirit acts on the brain; its thought passes through that of the medium. Although the medium writes involuntarily, he or she is more or less clearly aware of what is being received: this is the intuitive medium. The medium's role is exactly like that of interpreters who transmit a thought that is not their own, although they do understand it. Although in this case the spirit's thought and that of the medium sometimes intermingle, experience has taught us how to easily distinguish them. Equally good communications may be obtained through both these types of mediums; the advantage of the mechanical type is that it is particularly effective on people who are not yet convinced. Besides, the essential qualities of mediums are to be found much more in the nature of the spirits who assist them and in the communications they receive than in the means by which the communications are received.

Visitor - The procedure seems simple enough. Would it be possible for me to try it out myself?


A.K. - Certainly; I would even say that if you have been endowed with this mediumistic faculty, it would be the best way to convince you because you couldn't doubt your own good faith. But I would strongly urge you not to try it out before having studied it carefully. Communications from beyond the grave are fraught with more difficulties than one might think; they are not exempt from pitfalls or even dangers for those who lack the necessary experience. It is like someone who would like to experiment with chemicals without knowing chemistry: the person could run the risk of burning his or her fingers.

Visitor - Is there any sign by which one can recognize this aptitude?

A.K. - So far, we don't know of any diagnoses for mediumsfiip; those we thought we had identified turned out to be worthless. Experimentation is the only way to know if one is endowed with the faculty. Moreover, mediums are very numerous, and if we ourselves are not mediums, it is extremely rare for us not to find one amongst our family members or the persons with whom we associate. Sex, age and temperament don't matter; men and women, children and the elderly, as well as individuals who are well and those who are sick may be mediums.

If mediumship were conveyed by some outward sign, this would imply that the faculty is permanent, whereas it is essentially changeable and temporary. Its physical cause lies in how easily the perispiritual fluids of the incarnate and discarnate spirit are assimilated. Its moral cause lies in the will of the spirit, who communicates when it wants to, and not in our own will. From this we may conclude that, first, not all spirits can communicate indiscriminately through all mediums, and that, second, all mediums are capable of losing or having their faculty suspended when they least expect it. This brief summary should be enough to show you that there is a great deal of study to be done in order to recognize the variations that this phenomenon presents.

Thus, it would be a mistake to think that any spirit whatsoever can come when called and communicate through the first medium at hand. For a spirit to communicate, first, it must agree to do so; secpnd, its position or activities must allow it to; and third, it must find the medium to be a suitable instrument, adequate to its nature.

In principle, one may communicate with spirits of all orders, with relatives and friends, with the most highly evolved spirits as well as with the commonest; apart from possible individual situations, however, they come more willingly or less so according to the circumstances, and especially according to their affinity for the persons who call them, and not because of the request of the first person who, on a whim, evokes them out of curiosity. In such a case they would not have bothered with it when alive, much less after death.

Serious spirits come only to serious meetings, where they are called in an atmosphere of respect and for serious reasons; they pay no heed to any questions of curiosity or proof, useless purpose or experimentation.

Frivolous spirits go everywhere, but at serious meetings they remain quiet and stand aside to listen, like students at a gathering of scholars. They have fun at frivolous meetings, however, where they are amused by everything, frequently mock those in attendance, and answer everything with no concern for the truth.

Spirits known as rapping spirits, and in general, all those who produce physical manifestations, are of a lower order, although they are not necessarily evil because of it; they simply have a somewhat special aptitude for physical effects. High order spirits do not concern themselves with such things any more than scholars concern themselves with feats of strength; if high order spirits need to communicate through physical means, they use these spirits, just as we use laborers for heavier work.

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