The Spiritist Review - Journal of Psychological Studies - 1859

Allan Kardec

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We extracted the following passage from a letter sent by a corresponding member of the Parisian Society of Spiritist Studies, from Jura County:

“As I told you Sir, the spirits liked our old dwelling. In October last (1858) lady Countess C…, a close friend of my daughters, came over with her 8 year old son to spend a few days in our mansion. The child slept in the same room as his mother and the door between my daughter’s room remained open, so as to prolong the hours and the conversation. The boy, who was awake, told his mother: “What are you going to do with this man that is seating by your bed? He smokes a big pipe. Look how the room is full of smoke! Send him away ‘because he is shaking the curtains.’”

“Such vision lasted the whole evening. The mother was unsuccessful in trying to quiet the boy and nobody could sleep. This event did not scare my daughter or me since we know that the spiritist manifestations do happen. The mother, however, thought that the child was sleep-talking or making fun of us.”

“Here is another fact that I personally witnessed, which happened in the same room in May 1858. It is the case of the apparition of the spirit of a living person, who was really surprised for having come to visit me. I was very sick, not having slept for a long time when I saw a friend of the family seating by my bed, at about 10 pm. I manifested my surprise for having his visit at such late hours. He said: - Don’t speak because I came to watch you; don’t speak because you do need to sleep – and then he extended his hand over my head. I opened my eyes several times to check if he was still there and each time he would make a sign for me to close my eyes and be quiet. He played with the “snuff-box” between his fingers and from time to time he smoked, as usual. I finally slept and when I woke up the vision had gone.”

“Several circumstances demonstrate that during the time of such an unexpected visit I was perfectly awake and that it was not a dream. When he really visited me for the first time I was careful enough to thank him. He had the same “snuff-box” in his hand and held the same nice smile that he showed when watching me.”

Since he attested that he had not come and that there was no reason for him to come to spend the night by my side, I understood that it was his spirit only that had come to visit me while his body rested peacefully at his house.” 

The apparitions are so numerous that it would be impossible to register all of those of our knowledge or those from which we know about from perfectly authentic sources. As a matter of fact, now that the facts are explained; that we are aware of how they happen and that they belong to the laws of nature, we know that there is nothing wonderful about them. We have already provided the complete theory of the apparitions thus we will only recollect in a few words for a good understanding of what comes next.

We know that besides the material, corporeal envelope the spirit has another one, semi-material, which we call the perispirit. Death is the destruction of the first body only. In the errant state the spirit maintains the perispirit that constitutes a kind of ethereal body, invisible to us in the normal state. The spirits populate space. If, on a given moment, the veil that hides them were lifted, we would see an immense population agitating around us, walking on air. We have them permanently around us, observing us and frequently meddling with our businesses and pleasures, according to their character. The invisibility is not a permanent property of the spirits. Sometimes they show up under the same appearance that they had when alive and it is not rare to find persons who, searching deep into their memories, have knowledge of any fact of this kind. The theory of the apparitions is very simple and it is explained through a very familiar comparison such as the vapor that in the gaseous state is completely invisible. On the first level of condensation it becomes foggy; condensed further it changes to the liquid state and then to the solid. Something similar takes place with the substance of the perispirit by the will of the spirit. In fact, this is not more than a comparison, as we said, since we do not wish to identify one with the other. We use the example of the vapor to show the changes that may occur in an invisible body, but there is no inference from this that there is a condensation of the perispirit, in the actual meaning of the word. There is a molecular change in the material that forms the perispirit that makes it visible and even tangible, and that can give it, to a certain extent, the properties of the solid bodies. We know that bodies, which are perfectly transparent, may become opaque by a simple change in the position of the molecules or by the addition of another body, equally transparent. We don’t know well what the spirits do to make their ethereal bodies visible. The majority of them don’t even realize that but from the examples we have mentioned, we understand its physical possibility, which is enough to remove from the phenomenon what could seem, at first sight, supernatural. Hence the spirit can do it through a simple intrinsic modification or by the assimilation of an amount of strange fluid that momentarily alters the appearance of their perispirit. It is, in reality, this latter hypothesis that sticks out from the explanations that have been given to us and that we have reported when discussing the subject (Review, May, June and December 1858).

Up until now, there is no difficulty regarding the personality of the spirit. We know, however, that they show up wearing outfits whose aspect they change at will; sometimes they even show some accessories of toilet, jewelry, etc. In the two apparitions mentioned above one had a pipe that produced smoke; the other a snuff-box, taking a snuff from time to time. Notice, however, that this spirit was that of a living person and that his snuff-box was totally similar to the one that he normally used, and that it was at his house. What is the meaning then of those pipe, snuff-box, clothes and jewelry? Do the material objects that exist on Earth have a representation in the invisible world? Would the condensed matter, which forms those objects, have a quintessential component that escapes our senses? This is a huge problem whose solution may provide the key to a number of things so far inexplicable. It was that “snuff-box” that gave us the hint not only about the fact but also about the most extraordinary phenomenon of Spiritism: the phenomenon of the pneumatography or direct writing that we will discuss below.

If some criticize us due to the fact that we are advancing too much in the theory, we will respond that once we find an opportunity to advance we don’t see a reason to fall behind. If they are still looking to the turning tables not knowing why they turn, that is not a reason for us to stay put in the path. Spiritism is, no doubt, a science of observation, but it is perhaps even more a Science of reasoning and reason is the only means that can make it progress and triumph over certain resistances. Such fact is only contested because it is not understood. The explanation removes the character of wonderful, referring it to the general laws of nature. That is why we see on a daily basis people who have seen nothing and believe just because they understand, while others have seen and don’t believe because they don’t understand. This takes Spiritism to the path of reason, making it acceptable to those who want to know the “why” and the “how” of all things and their number is large in this century since the blind belief is no longer in our culture. Well, if we had only pointed to the route and would have the clean conscience of having contributed to the progress of this new science, we would fulfill the object of our constant studies.

Let us return to our “snuff-box”.

Every theory we presented, with respect to Spiritism, was given to us by the spirits, who have contradicted our own ideas many times. This is consistent with the present case and illustrates the answers were not a reaction of our thoughts. But the way by which a solution is obtained is not something without importance. We know from our own experience that it is not good enough to request something in order to obtain it. The answers are not always very explicit; it is necessary to develop the subject with certain precautions; progressively get to the objective and through a chain of deductions that require previous work. In principle, the way of formulating the questions, the order, the method and the clarity are things that cannot be neglected and that please the serious spirits, for they see the serious objective in all that.

Here is the conversation we had with the spirit of St. Louis, regarding the “snuff-box”, aiming at solving the problem of formation of certain objects in the invisible world (Society, June 24th 1859).

1. The report of Mrs. R…, it is related to a child that saw a man smoking a big pipe near his mother’s bed. It is understandable that the man could have taken the appearance of a smoker; it seems, however, that he was really smoking, considering that the boy saw the room full of smoke. What was that smoke? - An appearance produced for the boy.

2. Mrs. R… also mentions the case of an apparition of the spirit of a living person, seen by her. That spirit had a snuff-box and took snuffs from time to time. Could he have experienced the sensation that we have when taking a snuff? - No.

3. The snuff-box was like the one he customary uses and that was at his house. What was that snuff-box in the hands of the spirit? - Always appearance. It was for the circumstances to be noticed, as they were, and for the apparition not to be taken as a hallucination produced by the health condition of the clairvoyant. The spirit wanted that lady to believe in the reality of his presence thus taking all the appearance of reality.

4. You say it is an appearance but an appearance has nothing real; it is like an optical illusion. I would like to know if that snuff-box is not an unreal image only, like for example, that of an object that reflects from a mirror.

NOTE: One of the members of the Society, Mr. Sanson, observes that in the image reproduced by the mirror there is something real. If the image does not stick to the mirror it is because there is nothing to fixate it, but if it is projected onto a daguerreotype plate it leaves an impression, an evident proof that it is produced by some sort of substance and that it is not an optical illusion only.
- Mr. Sanson’s observation is perfectly fair. Could you kindly tell us if there is any analogy with the snuff-box, that is, if there is anything of material with that snuff-box?
- Certainly. It is with the support of that material principle that the perispirit takes the appearance of outfits similar to the ones that the spirit wore when alive.

OBSERVATION: The word appearance must evidently be taken here as an image, an imitation. The real snuff-box was not there. What the spirit had was only a reproduction. Compared to the original, it was only an appearance yet formed by a material principle.

Experience teaches us that we must not take certain expressions used by the spirits literally. By interpreting them according to our own ideas we expose ourselves to blunder hence we need to investigate further the meaning of their words, whenever there is the smallest ambiguity. That is a constant recommendation made by the spirits. Without the explanation that we provoked the word appearance, continuously repeated in similar cases, could give rise to a false interpretation.

5. Would there be an extension of the inert matter? Would there be, in the invisible world, an essential matter, covering the form of the objects that we see? In one word, would these objects have their double ethereal in the invisible word, like men are represented there in spirit?

OBSERVATION: This is a theory as any other and was our thought. The spirit, however, did not take it into account, based on the fact that it did not absolutely humiliate us. Its explanation seemed very logical and supported by a general principle, of which we find many applications.
- That is not how it happens. The spirit has over the elements spread in space, in our atmosphere, a power that you are far from suspecting. The spirit can, at will, concentrate those elements and give them an apparent shape, adequate to their intents.

6. I repeat the question categorically, so as to avoid any misunderstanding. Are the clothes that cover the spirits something? - It seems that my previous answer resolves this question. Don’t you know that the perispirit itself is something?

7. It results from that explanation that the spirits make the ethereal matter suffer transformations at their will and thus, in the case of the snuff-box, the spirit did not find it readymade; the spirit made it itself; it made it when needed and then made it disappear. The same must happen to all other objects such as clothes, jewelry, etc. - But that is evident.

8. That snuff-box was so perfectly visible to Mrs. R… to the point of deceiving her. Could the spirit have turned it tangible? - It could.

9. In that case Mrs. R… could have taken it in her hands, thinking that she was holding an authentic snuff-box? - Yes.

10. Had she opened the box it is likely that she have found snuff. Had she taken it, would it have made her sneeze? - Yes.

11. The spirit can then not only give the form but even some special properties? - If it wishes so; it is as a consequence of this principle that I responded affirmatively to the earlier questions. You will have proofs of the powerful action that the spirit exerts on matter and that, as I have said, you are far from suspecting.

12. Suppose then that it wanted to make a poisonous substance and that a person had taken it. Could that person have been poisoned? - It could but it would not have happened, since the spirit would not have been given permission to make it.

13. Could the spirit have made a healthy substance, proper to cure in case of diseases? Has this happened before? - Yes; many times.
OBSERVATION: A fact of that kind will be found with a very interesting theoretical explanation in the following article about A Servant Spirit.

14. Then it could also have made an edible substance; suppose it had made a fruit or other goodies. Could someone have eaten them and felt satisfied? - Yes, yes. But do not try so hard to understand what is simple. A single beam of sunlight is enough to make visible these dense material particles, plentiful around the space in which you live. Don’t you know that the air contains water vapor? Condense it and you will have it in the natural state. Remove heat and there you have the intangible and invisible molecules turning into solid, very solid. There are other matters that will lead the chemists to show you even more remarkable wonders. It is only the spirit that has more perfect instruments than yours: their own will and God’s permission.
OBSERVATION: The question of satisfaction is very important here. How come a substance that only has temporary existence and properties and, to a certain extent, conventional, may produce fulfillment? Through its contact with the stomach that substance produces satiation but not the one resulting from plenitude. If that substance may act upon the physical organization and modify a morbid state it can also act upon the stomach, producing the feeling of satiation. However, we ask the Pharmacists and restaurant owners not to be jealous and do not think that the spirits come to compete with them. Such cases are rare and exceptional and don’t ever depend on the will. Otherwise cure and alimentation would be very cheap.

15. Could the spirit make coins in the same way? - For the same reason.

16. Since made tangible by the will of the spirit could these objects have a character of permanence and stability? - They could but this does not happen. It is out of the laws.

17. All spirits have that same degree of power? - No, no.

18. Who are those who more particularly have that power? - Those to whom God bestow that, when it is useful.

19. The elevation of a spirit plays a role in such case? - It is certain that the more elevated the spirit, the easier to obtain such a power. That however depends on the circumstances. Inferior spirits may also be granted.

20. The production of semi-material objects always takes place from a willful act of the spirit or the spirit sometimes exert such power irrespective of their will? - This frequently happens irrespective of the spirit’s will.

21. Such a power would then be one of the attributes, a faculty inherent to the very nature of the spirit? It would somehow be an attribute like seeing and hearing? - Certainly. However, the spirit sometimes ignores this. Then another spirit employs it, irrespectively, when required by the circumstances. The Zouave’s tailor was exactly the spirit that I have just mentioned and to whom he referred with his humorous language.
OBSERVATION: We find an example of such faculty in certain animals, as for example the electric fish that irradiates electricity not knowing what or how it does it, not even knowing the mechanism through which that happens. Don’t we sometimes produce certain effects through spontaneous acts that we don’t realize? Thus, it seems very natural to us that the spirit may operate under those circumstances through a kind of instinct. The spirit acts through the will, not knowing how, as we walk without calculating the forces at play.

22. We understand that in both cases reported by Mrs. R…, one of the spirits wanted to have a pipe and the other a snuff-box to impress the vision of a living person. I ask, however, if the spirit were not successful in making her see the object, could the spirit think that he had the object, thus creating the illusion to himself? - No, if it holds certain superiority, because it would have a perfect awareness of its condition. The same does not apply to the inferior spirits.
OBSERVATION: That was, for example, the case of the Queen of Oude, whose evocation can be found in the issue of March 1858, who still thought herself covered in diamonds.

23. Can two spirits mutually recognize each other by the appearance that they had when alive? - That is not how they recognize each other since they will not take that appearance one to the other. If, however, under certain circumstances, they were in the presence of one another, showing that appearance, why wouldn’t they recognize each other?

24. How can the spirits recognize one another in the midst of a crowd of other spirits, and above all how can they do it when one goes to a distant place and many times to other worlds looking for someone that we evoke? - That is a question whose answer would take you a long step forward. It is necessary to wait. You are not sufficiently advanced. At this point in time be satisfied with the certainty that it is like that and you have sufficient proofs of this fact.

25. If the spirit can take the materials to make all these things from the universal element and give them a temporary reality, with their properties, the spirit can also take from there the material to write. Consequently, that gives us the key to the phenomenon of direct writing. - You finally understand.

26. If the matter that the spirit utilizes is not permanent, how come the traces of the direct writings do not disappear? - Do not judge from the words. From the beginning I have never said “never”. In the studied cases it was related to bulky solid materials. Here it is related to signs that are convenient to preserve and they are preserved.
OBSERVATION: The theory above may be summarized like this: The spirit acts upon matter; takes from the primitive universal matter the elements necessary to willfully form objects with the appearance of several objects that exist on Earth. The spirit can also willfully operate over the elemental matter, producing an intimate transformation that gives determined properties to that matter. That faculty is inherent to the nature of the spirit who frequently exerts it when necessary, like in an unnoticeable instinctive act. The objects formed by the spirits have a temporary existence, subordinated to their will or to the necessity. The spirits can do and undo that at will. In certain cases these objects may have every indication of reality to the eyes of the living persons, that is, may become momentarily visible and even tangible. There is formation but no creation, since the spirit cannot take something from the nothing.

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