Allan Kardec

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One of our colleagues, Mr. Canu, formerly a devout materialist who learned from Spiritism to have a healthier appreciation of things, accused of having been the propagator of doctrines that he now considers subversive of the social order. Aiming at the reparation of what he considers to be his fault, and so as to enlighten those who he had mislead, he wrote a letter to one of his friends, requesting our advice. The letter seemed so attuned to his intentions that we decided to request his permission to have it published here, something that will certainly please our readers.

Instead of discussing the issue of Spiritism up front, which would have been repelled by those who don’t admit the soul as a principle, and particularly instead of placing before their eyes the strange phenomena that they could deny or attribute to vulgar causes, he goes back to the origin. He rightly tries to make them spiritualists before spiritists. He arrives at the spiritist idea as a consequence through a perfectly logical train of thoughts. This is obviously the most rational path. The scope of this letter obliged us to share it in this publication.

“Paris, November 10th, 1860
My dear friend,

You would like to receive a long letter about Spiritism. I will try to satisfy your wishes the best I can, while I await the publication of an important book about the subject that must be published towards the end of the year. I am forced to start by some general considerations for which it is necessary to refer back to the origin of humankind. This will make my letter a little bit longer but it is necessary for the understanding of the subject. People commonly say: Everything perishes with time! Yes, time consumes everything but generally a different meaning is also given to this expression. Time consumes everything but it is only matter that ends. Everything is consumed in the sense that everything moves forward and follows its natural course, but not a blind and aimless course, and yet it must never end. Motion is the great physical as well as moral law of the universe, and the objective of all that movement is the betterment; it is an active, incessant and universal work; it is what we call progress.

Everything is submitted to such a law, with the exception of God. God is its author; the creature is the instrument and object of application of the law. Creation consists of two distinct natures: the material and the intellectual nature. The latter is the active instrument; the former is the passive instrument.

These two instruments complement each other reciprocally, that is, one without the other would be totally useless. Without the intellectual nature, or the intelligent and active spirit, the material nature, that is, the unintelligent and inert matter would be perfectly useless, since it could not do anything on its own. Without the inert matter the same would happen to the intelligent spirit. Even the most perfect instrument, would be the same as any other, if there was no one to use it. The most skillful worker, the top notch scientist, would be as impotent as the most perfect idiot, if they did not have instruments to develop their science and demonstrate it.

Here is the place and time to note that the material instrument is not only the carpenter’s planer, the sculptor’s chisel, the painter’s palette, the surgeon’s scalpel, the astronomer’s compass and telescope: it also consists on the hand, tongue, eyes, and brain, in short, in the union of the material organs necessary to the manifestation of thought, thus implying the denomination of passive instrument to the matter upon which the intelligence, properly speaking, works. That is how a table, a house, a picture, considered in their forming elements, are not less instruments than the saw, the planer, the ruler, the trowel, the paint brush which has products on it; for the hand and eyes to direct them; finally, the brain which presides over the action. Now, all that, including the brain, was the complex instrumentation used by the intelligence to manifest its thoughts, its will, as in producing a form, or a table, or a house, or a painting, etc.

Inert by nature and formless in its essence, matter only acquires useful property by the form given to it, which led a renowned physiologist to say that the form was more necessary than matter, a somewhat paradox proposition, but demonstrates the important role played by the form in the modifications of matter. It is according to this law that God, if I can say so, incessantly created and modified the worlds and their inhabiting creatures, according to the forms that are more adequate to His designs following the universal harmony. It is always according to that law that the intelligent creatures concur to the continuous transformation of matter, incessantly acting upon it like God but having a secondary role; each level of that continuous transformation is one step towards progress, simultaneously to the manifestation of the intelligence that leads to such transformation. That is how everything is always in a progressive movement; that the mission of the intelligent beings is to drive that movement towards progress, sometimes unknowingly; that the role of the material creature is to obey such movement and manifest the progress of the intelligent being; that creation, considered in whole or in parts, incessantly realizes God’s designs.

Without leaving our planet, how many intelligent creatures accomplish an unsuspecting mission! From my side, I confess that not long ago I was among those. I would not feel embarrassed at all for dropping a few words here about my own story. Please forgive this short digression that may perhaps carry a useful side.

Raised in the school of the Catholic dogma, only much later having developed the taste for reflection and analysis, I was a keen believer for a long time; you certainly have not forgotten that. You know, however, that later on the contrary excess dragged me down. From the denial of certain principles that my personal reason could not accept, I reached the most absolute denial. The dogma of eternal punishment in particular, outraged me. I could not reconcile the idea of a God that was said to be infinitely merciful with the perpetual punishment of a transient fault. The picture of hell, its flames, the material tortures, it all seemed ridiculous and more like a parody of Tartarus of the Pagans. I recalled some impressions from my childhood and remembered that during my first communion we were told that one should not pray for the damned because it would not do them any good; whoever did not have faith was doomed to the flames; that one single doubt about the infallibility of the Church was enough to be damned; that for God our good deeds were not enough to save us because faith was one of the most elevated human actions.

That doctrine made me unforgiving and hardened my heart. I used to mistrust people and the simplest sin would make me see someone condemned, and that person would be someone from whom I should stay away, as someone does with a plague, to whom I would then refuse a glass of water, given my indignation, telling myself that one day God would refuse that person even more than I had just done. If they could still burn people at the stake, I would gladly throw in the fire all of those whose faith was not orthodox enough, even if that person was my own father. Hence, given my state of mind, I could not love God, I was afraid.

Later and following a large number of events that would take too long to enumerate, I had my eyes opened, rejecting the dogmas that did not fit my reason, because I had never been taught to place moral above exterior form. From the religious fanaticism I fell into the absolute incredulity, like so many other childhood friends of mine.

I will not get into the details that will take us to off topic. I will only add that after having lost for fifteen years the sweet illusion about the existence of an infinitely good, powerful and wise God; about the existence and immortality of the soul, I finally found it again, not an illusion, but a certainty as absolute as the belief in my own existence, and that is what I write about to you now. That is, my friend, the greatest event of our time, the greatest moment that we can witness in our day: the material proof of the existence and immortality of the soul. Let us return to that fact.

Nevertheless, to make you understand Spiritism, let us go back to the origins of humankind, a theme that will not take us long.

It is evident that the planets that populate the vastness were not uniquely made as a means of decoration. Besides the pleasantries, they also have utility: produce and feed the material beings, docile instruments appropriate to this infinite multitude of intelligent beings that populate space and are definitely the masterpiece, or better, the purpose of creation, since they are the only ones capable of knowing, admiring and adoring the author. Each and every one of the globes scattered in space had their beginning, regarding the formation, more or less long ago. As for the age of the material which it is composed of, it is a secret that is irrelevant to us now, since the form is the object of our concern. In fact, we don’t care if matter is eternal, or just created before the formation of the globe, or even contemporary to that formation. What one needs to know is that the globe was created to be inhabited. It is not perhaps useless to add that such formation does not take place in a day, as found in the Scriptures; that a planet cannot come out of nothing and be covered in forests, fields and inhabitants; like Minerva born fully matured with a suit of armor from the head of Jupiter. No. God acts infallibly but slowly. Everything follows a slow and progressive law, not because God hesitates or requires to move slowly, but because his laws are such and unchangeable. As a matter of fact, what we as transient human creatures call slowness is not slow to God for whom time does not exist.

Now, let us take a forming globe or an already existing one if you like. Many centuries or perhaps thousands of centuries must pass before it is inhabitable. However, the moment comes. After multiple and successive changes on its surface, it begins to be covered by vegetation – I speak of Earth and don’t pretend to speak of other globes but by analogy, whose evident objective is the same, and whose phases may change from one to the next. Side by side with the vegetation comes animal life, one and the other in their utmost simplicity, these two branches of organic life support one another, mutually fertilizing and feeding one another, simultaneously elaborating the inorganic matter in order to make it gradually more adequate to the formation of more elaborated creatures, up until the time when it can produce and sustain the body capable of providing housing and operating as an instrument to the being by excellence, that is, the intellectual creature that will use such a body and that waits for its occurrence and without which that intelligence could not advance. That is when we get to humankind! How was the human being formed? That is not the issue. The human being was formed according to the great law of formation of the living creatures, and that is all. Just because it is not known, it does not mean that such a law does not exist. How were the first individuals of every species of plant formed? How were the first individuals of each species of animals formed? Each one was formed in their own way, but following the same law. What is certain is that God had no need to become a potter or get His hands dirty in the mud in order to create man, or to remove a man’s rib to create a woman. Such apparently absurd and ridiculous fables may well be an ingenious image hiding a meaning that can perhaps be reached by more insightful minds than mine. Since I don’t understand that, I stop here. Thus, here is the physical human being, inhabiting Earth and inhabited himself by an immaterial being, to which he serves as an instrument. Incapable of anything on its own, as matter is generally incapable, he cannot become capable but through the intelligence that animates him; that very intelligence, however, is imperfect as any other creature or anything else but God, that intelligence needs perfecting and it is for that perfecting that a body was given, since the spirit could not manifest without matter, and consequently could not improve, to establish itself and finally advance.

From a collective standpoint, humanity is like the individual: ignorant at the infancy, becoming enlightened with time. That is naturally explained by the actual state of imperfection of the spirits whose advancement depends on that humanity. However, considered individually, the spirit cannot achieve the required sum of progress in one existence only. That is why a more or less large number of corporeal existences are needed, according to the way that each one of those existences are lived. The more the spirit works its own betterment on each existence, the lesser the number of required existences to come. As each corporeal existence is a trial, an atonement, a true purgatory, it is in the spirit’s own interest to advance as fast as possible, to become subject to the lesser possible number of new existences, considering that the spirit cannot move backwards. Each level of achieved progress is definitely granted and cannot be taken from the spirit. According to this now demonstrated principle, it becomes evident that the faster the spirit advances, the sooner the objective is reached. As a consequence from the preceding, each one of us today is not in their first corporeal existence – and perhaps still very far away from the last one – because our primitive existences must have taken place on planets inferior to Earth where we arrived when our spirit had achieved a level of advancement compatible with this globe. In the same way we shall move on to superior worlds as we advance, worlds much more advanced than Earth on every aspect, step by step, always to a better condition. Before we leave a world, as it seems, we go through several existences whose number is not limited but submitted to the actual progress that we may have achieved there.

I can foresee an objection coming out of your lips. All that, you will say, can be true but since I cannot remember anything, like everybody else, everything that might have happened in our prior existences is the same as if it had not happened. If that is the case in each new existence, then to my spirit it is irrelevant to be immortal or to die with the body, since it does not have any awareness of its own identity during life.

In fact, it would be the same but that is not the case. We don’t lose the memory of the past but only temporarily during this corporeal life; we recover the memory with death, that is, when the spirit wakes up in its true existence, the spiritual life, an effect similar to the one that the sleep has on the body.

What happens to the soul of the dead while waiting for a new incarnation?

Those who don’t leave Earth remain in the so called errant state on its surface. As spirits they can certainly go where they please or, at least, where they can, according to their progress, but in general they don’t stay away from the living particularly from those they loved, unless imposed by a duty of service somewhere else. We are then surrounded by a multitude of spirits, all the time, known and unknown to us, friends and foes, who see, observe and hear us; some of them share our sufferings as well as our happiness, while others suffer with our pleasures or enjoy our pains, and others still are indifferent to everything, exactly as it happens on Earth among the mortal beings, whose affections, antipathies, vices and virtues are kept in the other world. The difference is that the good ones enjoy a happy state that is unknown to us on Earth, and that is understandable since they no onger have material needs to satisfy or material obstacles to overtake them. If they lived well, that is, if they have nothing or almost nothing to regret from their last corporeal life, they peacefully enjoy the testimony of their conscience and their good deeds. If they were malicious, nasty, and considering that in the spiritual world they are in the open and cannot dissimulate anything under a material covering like we do here, they then suffer the shame of being known and uncovered; they suffer with the presence of those who they have offended, or neglected or oppressed, as well as with the impossibility of avoiding their eyes. Finally, they suffer the effects of a corroding remorse until regret may bring them some relief – it happens sooner or later – or when a new incarnation may subtract them from one’s own eyes but not from the spirits’ eyes, by momentarily removing the awareness of his identity. Then, losing the memory of the past, the spirits feel relieved. That is when a new trial begins. If they are lucky to have advanced when leaving this new life, they enjoy the merit and some progress is granted; if they don’t improve, they then find the same torment again, until they finally repent or take advantage of a new existence.

There is another kind of suffering: the one experienced by the worst and more perverse spirits. Inaccessible to shame or remorse, they don’t feel the torments. Their sufferings, however, are more vivid because they are only excited by evilness but unable to realize it. They suffer by the envy of seeing others happier or better than themselves, simultaneously suffering by the hatred towards those who they can no longer reach and the incapacity of satisfying their bad inclinations. Oh! Those suffer more, as I told you, but that will only last until they decide to improve. Or, put differently, up until the day they become better. They often don’t foresee such a horizon. They are so bad, so blind by evilness that they become oblivious to a better state of things; as a consequence, they cannot see that their suffering may one day end, a fact that makes them more obstinate in evil, further aggravating their sufferings.

However, since they cannot escape indefinitely the common fate reserved by God to every creature, without exception, there will be a time when they will be required to follow the common path. Sometimes it is closer than thought just by observing their evilness. There have been some, who have converted suddenly, and their suffering stopped; however, they still have tough trials to face in their next existence on Earth. They need to purify, atoning their own faults, and that is definitely more than fair. Nevertheless, they no longer have fear of losing their accomplished progress, since they cannot go backwards.

There you have it my friend, in short and as clear as I could make it, a presentation of the spiritist philosophy, as it was possible for me to deliver in a letter. You will find a better explanation and the most thorough development of these ideas in The Spirits’ Book, the source which made me what I am today.

Let us now move on to more practical terms.”

(Conclusion in the next issue)

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