Allan Kardec

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1. Confidence in the reality of a future life does not exclude apprehension in regard to the passage from this present life to the other one. Many persons do not dread death in itself; what they dread is the instant of transition. Do we, or do we not, suffer in the crossing of the boundary? This is the query that disturbs one’s equanimity, and which is all the more worthy of consideration because it refers to something from which no one among us can possibly escape. We may decline to take a journey upon the Earth; but the journey we are contemplating is one that must be taken alike by rich and poor, and if it were a painful one, neither rank nor fortune can do away with its painfulness.

2. When we see the peacefulness of some deaths and the terrible convulsions that accompany others, we naturally infer that the sensations attendant on dissolution are not the same in all cases; but who can enlighten us upon this point? Who will describe for us the physiological phenomenon of the separation of the soul and body? Who will recount to us the impressions of that solemn moment? Science and religion are equally silent in reference to this matter.

Why are they silent? Because both are equally ignorant of the laws that govern the relations of spirits and matter; because the one stops short at the threshold of spirit-life, and the other, at the threshold of physical life. Spiritism is the connecting link between the two, and furnishes us with the needed information respecting the transition from one state of being to the other; first, through the more precise ideas it gives concerning the nature of the soul, and second, through the recitals of those who have quitted the earthly life. The knowledge of the fluidic link that unites the soul and the body is the key to this phenomenon, as to many others.

3. That inert matter is insensible is a fact of which we are certain; it is only the soul that perceives the sensations of pleasure and pain. During life, the desegregation of any portion of its physical envelope is perceived by the soul, which experiences, as a consequence, an impression more or less painful. It is the soul that suffers, and not the body; the latter is only the instrument of suffering; the soul is the patient. After death, the body, being separated from the soul, may be mutilated with impunity, for it has no feeling; the soul, being isolated from the body, receives no impression from the disorganization of the latter; it has its own perceptions, the source of which is entirely distinct from tangible matter.

The perispirit is the fluidic envelope of the soul, from which it is never separated, either before or after death, and with which it forms, so to say, but a single being, for neither of them can be conceived of without the other. During the earthly life, the perispiritual fluid penetrates every part of the body and constitutes the vehicle by which physical sensations are transmitted to the soul; it is also by means of this intermediary that the soul acts upon the body and directs its movements.

4. The extinction of the organic life causes the separation of the soul from the body by determining the rupture of the fluidic link that unites them together; but this separation never takes place abruptly: the perispiritual fluid is gradually disengaged from all the organs of the body, so that the separation is only absolute and complete when not a single particle of the perispirit remains united to a single molecule of the body. The pain experienced, by the soul, at the moment of death, is in direct proportion to the number of points of contact existing between the body and the perispirit, and the greater or less amount of difficulty and slowness with which the separation takes place. We must, therefore, not disguise from ourselves the fact that death may be more or less painful, according to the circumstances that we have now to examine.

5. Let us begin by examining, as our starting-point, the four following cases, which may be regarded as summing up the main varieties of the process of dissolution, between which, however, there are a multitude of gradations:

1° The disengagement of the perispirit may be completely effected when the organic life ceases; in that case, the soul feels absolutely nothing. 2° The cohesion between the perispirit and the body may be in full force at the moment of death; in that case, a sort of wrenching asunder of the two takes place, producing a painful reaction in the perceptions of the soul. 3° The cohesion between the body and the perispirit may be weak; in which case, their separation is effected easily and without shocks. 4° Numerous points of contact between the body and the perispirit may exist after the cessation of the organic life; in which case the soul will feel the effects of the decomposition of the body until the links between the two are entirely broken.

From these facts it follows that the suffering, which is so often attendant on death, depends on the strength of the adherence between the body and the perispirit; that whatever tends to diminish this adherence, and to hasten the disengagement of the perispirit from the body, renders its passage less painful; and lastly that if the disengagement is effected without difficulty, the soul experiences no disagreeable sensation whatever.

6. In examining the passage from the earthly life to the spirit-life, another point, and one of the greatest importance, has to be noted, viz., the mental confusion which accompanies the separation of the soul from the body. At the moment when this separation is taking place, the soul is seized with a sort of torpor that paralyzes its faculties, and at least to a certain extent, neutralizes its sensations; it is in a state resembling catalepsy, so that it is rarely conscious of the termination of the process of dying. We say very rarely, because there is a case in which the soul may preserve its self-consciousness to the very last, as we will presently see. The state of confusion may therefore be considered as the normal condition of the soul at the moment of death; its duration differs in different cases and may vary from a few hours to many years. When this confusion dissipates, the soul finds itself in a position of one who is waking out of a deep sleep; its ideas are muddled, vague, and clouded; it sees, so to say, through a fog; but, little by little, its sight becomes clearer, its memory comes back, and it regains the consciousness of itself. But this awakening is very different, according to the character of the individual; with some, it is calm and accompanied with delightful sensations; with others, it is full of terror and anxiety, and is like a hideous nightmare.

7. The moment when the body heaves the last sigh is, consequently, not the most painful, because in general, the soul is then in a state of unconsciousness; the suffering attendant on dying is undergone either before, or after the moment of dissolution. The suffering that precedes death is due to the convulsions that accompany the desegregation of the physical body; that which follows death results from the distress occasioned by the state of confusion. Let us hasten to say, however, that this suffering is not usual. As we have already remarked, the intensity and duration of the suffering that may accompany death is in exact proportion to the affinity which exists between the body and the perispirit; the closer is this affinity, the longer and the more painful will be the spirit’s efforts to free himself from the links by which it is held to the body; but there are persons in whose case the cohesion is so slight that the disengagement of the perispirit is effected spontaneously and naturally, and without any conscious effort on the part of the spirit. In such cases, the fleshly body drops away from the spirit as gently and easily as the ripe fruit drops from the tree; and a serene awakening follows this peaceful death.

8. The moral state of the soul is the condition that determines the ease, or the difficulty, with which the spirit disengages itself from its terrestrial envelope. The strength of the affinity between the body and the perispirit is in the exact ratio of the spirit’s attachment to materiality; it is, consequently, at the maximum in the case of those whose thoughts and interests are concentrated on the earthly life and the enjoyment of material pleasures; it is almost nil in the case of an individual whose soul has identified itself, beforehand, with the spirit-life. The slowness and difficulty of the separation depends entirely on the degree of the soul’s purification and dematerialization. It is in the power of each of us to render our passage, from the life of the Earth to that of the spirit-world, more or less easy or difficult, pleasant or painful.

This point being laid down, both as a theoretic principle and as a result of observation, we have now to examine the influence exercised by the various kinds of death, on the sensations of the soul at the moment of dissolution.

9. In all cases of natural death, that is to say, of death resulting from the extinction of the vital forces by age or disease, the separation is effected gradually; in the case of those whose soul is dematerialized and whose thoughts are detached from earthly things, the disengagement of the spirit is almost complete before death takes place; the body is still vitalized by the organic life, when the soul has already entered upon the life of the spirit-world, and is only held to the body by a link so slight that it breaks of itself and without effort with the last beat of the heart. A spirit in this situation may have already recovered its mental lucidity, and may therefore be the conscious witness of the extinction of the life of the body from which it rejoices to be freed; for such a one, confusion scarcely exists; death, for this spirit, is only a moment of peaceful sleep, from which it emerges with an indescribable impression of happiness and hope.

In the case of the worldly-minded and the sensual, of those who have lived with the life of the body rather than with that of the spirit, and for whom the spiritual life is nothing – not even a reality in their minds – everything in their earthly life has helped to tighten the links that bind them to matter; nothing, through all their earthly career, has tended to relax, beforehand, the links which have to be severed abruptly when the hour of their departure has come. As death approaches, the soul, in these cases also, effects its disengagement by degrees, but through a series of continuous and painful efforts. The convulsions of the process of dying, under the conditions we are now considering, are the index of the conflict undergone by the spirit, who, at one moment, tries to break the bonds that resist its efforts to get itself free, and, at another moment, clutches at the body of which it would fain regain possession, but from which it is violently torn away, bit by bit, by an irresistible force.

10. A spirit attaches itself all the more strongly to the life of the body, in proportion to its inability to see anything beyond it; it feels that the organic life is escaping it, and it does its utmost to retain it within its grasp. Instead of yielding itself up to the movement that is drawing it away, the spirit resists it with all its might; and, in some instances, the struggle is thus prolonged for days, for weeks, or for months. Undoubtedly, in such cases, the spirit is no longer in possession of its usual lucidity; the confusion attendant on dissolution has begun, for such a spirit, long before death actually occurs; but its suffering is nonetheless severe, and the state of vagueness and doubt in which the spirit finds itself, its uncertainty as to what will become of it, add poignancy to its trouble. Death at length takes place, but the spirit’s misery is not ended. Its mental confusion still continues; it feels that it is alive, but the spirit knows not whether it is living with the fleshly life or with spirit-life; and its struggles are prolonged until the last links between its perispirit and its body are completely broken. In such a case, death has put a term to the disease which has killed the body, but it has not arrested the repercussion of the physical effects of the corporeal dissolution in the consciousness of the spirit; so long as any points of contact exist between the body and the perispirit, the spirit feels, and suffers from the process of decay that is transpiring in the former.

11. Quite different is the position of the spirit who has become dematerialized during its earthly life, even in cases in which death occurred by the most painful maladies. The fluidic links which unite its body with its perispirit, being already weakened, break without any shock; the spirit’s confidence in the future, which it foresees in thought and sometimes even in reality, causes it to regard death as a deliverance and its suffering as a trial; hence there results for the spirit a calmness and resignation that soften the severest suffering. When death has taken place, the links that connected the spirit with its fleshly body being instantly broken, no painful reaction takes place in its consciousness; the spirit feels, on awakening in the spirit-world, free, lively, relieved of a heavy burden, and thoroughly happy in its complete deliverance from physical pain.

12. In cases of violent death, the conditions that bring about the process of separation are not exactly the same. When even a partial desegregation of the elements of an individual’s personality has not been previously initiated to begin the process of separating the body and the perispirit, the organic life is suddenly arrested when in full force; in such a case, the disengagement of the perispirit only begins to be effected after death has occurred, and as in other cases, it cannot be effected immediately. The spirit, unexpectedly seized upon by death, is, as it were, stunned by the suddenness of the event; but, as it feels and thinks, it supposes itself to be still living the earthly life, and it retains this illusion until it has come to understand its real position. This intermediate state between the life of the flesh and the life of the spirit-world is one of the most interesting subjects of study that is offered to us, because it presents the curious spectacle of a spirit who mistakes its fluidic body for its fleshly body, and who experiences all the sensations of organic life. It offers an infinite variety of shades, according to the character, the knowledge, and the degree of moral advancement of each spirit. It is of short duration for those whose soul is purified, because in their case, there has already been a commencement of the liberating process, of which death even the most sudden has only hastened the completion; but for others, it may be prolonged for years. This state is very frequent, even in the cases of ordinary death, but for some it presents nothing painful, because of the qualities of the Spirit; but for others, this situation is a terrible one. It is especially painful in the case of those who have committed suicide. Because the body adheres to the perispirit by every fiber, all the convulsions of the former are repeated via repercussions in the soul, which thus undergoes the most horrible sufferings.

13. The various states of the spirit at the moment of death may be summed up as follows: The more slowly a spirit’s disengagement is effected, the more severely does it suffer; the rapidity with which its disengagement is effected is in proportion to the degree of its moral advancement: for the spirit whose soul is already dematerialized, whose conscience is pure, death is but a momentary sleep, void of suffering, and the awakening from which is unspeakably delightful.

14. In order that human beings may be induced to labor diligently to effect their own purification, to repress their evil tendencies, and to vanquish their worldly passions, they must see the advantages that such a line of action will secure to them in the future life; so that they may be able to identify themselves with that future life, to concentrate their aspirations upon it, and to prefer it to the life of the Earth, they must not only believe in its existence, but must also understand it; they must be able to contemplate it under an aspect that shall be in harmony with their reason and their common sense, and with their highest idea of the greatness, goodness, and justice of God. Of all the philosophic doctrines hitherto presented to the human mind, Spiritism is the one that exercises, in this respect, the most powerful influence, through the immovable faith that it gives to those who really comprehend its scope and teachings.

Enlightened spiritists do not begin by believing; They believe because they understand, and they understand because the principles of Spiritism approve themselves to their judgment. The future life is a reality that is displayed incessantly before their eyes, and which they see and touch, so to say, every moment; consequently, no doubt in regard to it can enter their souls. The short span of their present lives seems as nothing to them in comparison with the spirit-life of eternity, which they see to be their veritable life; and they therefore attach but little importance to the incidents of the road and they meet with resignation the vicissitudes of which they comprehend both the cause and the utility. Their souls are raised above the trials and troubles of their earthly existence by the direct relationships that they cultivate with the invisible world around us; the fluidic links that connect them with matter are thus gradually weakened, and a partial loosening of those links, effected during the course of their present existence, facilitates their passage from the life of the Earth to the life of the spirit-world. The mental clouding inseparable from the transition, is of brief duration in their case, because as soon as they have crossed the threshold of the spirit-world, they know where they are; nothing in that world seems foreign to them; they perfectly understand the situation in which they find themselves.

15. Spiritism, assuredly, is not indispensable to the obtaining of this result, and it has no pretension to be the sole agent for securing the well-being of the soul in the other life; but it facilitates the attainment of that well-being through the knowledge it gives us, through the sentiments it inspires, and through the determination which it awakens, in the minds of all who have sincerely accepted its principles, to labor unremittingly for their mental and moral advancement. It also gives, to everyone, the means of facilitating the disengagement of other spirits at the moment when they are quitting their terrestrial envelope, and of shortening their subsequent period of confusion, by prayer and evocation. By sincere prayer, which is a spiritual magnetization, we assist the spirit who is passing away to obtain a more rapid desegregation of the perispiritual fluid; by evocation, conducted wisely and prudently, and by addressing the spirit in words of kindness and encouragement, we rouse the spirit out of the state of torpor in which it finds itself, and we help the spirit to recover its self-consciousness more quickly; if the spirit is in a state of distress, we urge it to the repentance which alone can shorten its sufferings. *

* In the examples we are about to adduce, the happiness and unhappiness of spirit-life are illustrated by the narratives of the spirits themselves, who thus initiated us into the various phases of their realm of existence. We have not sought to bring before the reader the illustrious personages of antiquity, whose position may have undergone considerable change since the existence by which they are known to us, and concerning whom it would be impossible to obtain sufficient proofs of identity. We have, on the contrary, selected the experiences of those whose earthly existence was undergone amidst the ordinary circumstances of the life of our own day, because it is from these that the greatest sum of instruction can be drawn. The more nearly the terrestrial existence of a spirit relates to our own, through its social position, its employments, its relationships, etc., the more closely does the narration of that spirit’s experiences in the spirit-world come home to us, and the easier it is for us to obtain a reasonable probability of the identity of the narrator. The positions of common life are those of the greater number, for which reason the experiences of spirits whose earthly existence was passed in those positions are of more general applicability; exceptional positions are less interesting to the greater number, because they go beyond the sphere of their thoughts and habits. We have, therefore, not sought to bring forward illustrious names; if among those whose statements we have selected, some few are well known, the greater number are altogether obscure. To have paraded renowned names would have added nothing to the instructiveness of these recitals, and would probably have roused the ill will of the friends and connections of those who bore them. We address ourselves neither to the inquisitive nor to the lovers of scandal, but to those who sincerely desire light on the subject of the future life towards which we are tending.

We might have multiplied these examples ad infinitum; but, being compelled to restrict their number, we have chosen those that convey the greatest amount of information in regard to the state of the spirit-world, through the position of the spirit itself, or through the explanation it is able to give us. The greater part of them are as yet unpublished; some few of them, only, have been published in “The Spiritist Review;” of these, we have suppressed all details not bearing directly on the aim of the present work, and we have added the complementary explanations that have subsequently been given in regard to them by our spirit-guides.

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