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Kardec & The Codification of Spiritism

Allan Kardec was born Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail in Lyon, France, in October of 1804. From an affluent family, the young Rivail at the age 10 was sent to Switzerland to study in one of the most prestigious schools in Europe at that time, the Yverdon Institute, led by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, a renowned pedagogue and educational reformer. Pestalozzi’s pedagogy, whose goal was to develop in his pupils their academic and practical skills as well as a social awareness and their ability to love and selfishlessly do good to others (summarized as Head, Heart and Hands), had a profound and lasting impact on the young Rivail. After graduation, he returned to Paris and devoted most of his life to education. He was a teacher and author of many publications, among others, A Plan for the Improvement of Public Instruction, submitted by him in 1828 to the French Legislative Chamber; A Course of Practical and Theoretic Arithmetic, on the Pestalozzian System, for the’ use of Teachers and Mothers (1829); A Classical Grammar of the French Tongue (1831); Reform plan for the examination and schools to educate young people (1847), where he emphasized  the need to offer equal opportunities of education for girls; A Manual for the use of Candidates for Examination in the Public Schools; with Explanatory Solutions of various Problems of Arithmetic and Geometry (1848). He was a member of several academic societies, among others, the Royal Society of Arras, which, in 1831, awarded him the Prize of Honor for his essay on the question, “What is the System of Study most in Harmony with the Needs of the Epoch?” For many years, inspired by his mentor Pestalozzi, Prof. Rivail gave free lectures of Math and Sciences for those who had no other means to afford them otherwise.


In the spring of 1855, Prof. Rivail reluctantly accepted an invitation to participate in a “dancing table” experiment. Dancing or turning table was a trendy form of entertainment at that time in Europe, where a small group of people sitting around a table with the palm of their hands on top, but not necessarily touching it, enabled the table to move up in the air and down. The members of the group then asked questions that were answered by the table (allegedly by the action of spirits) according to a pre-arranged code associating the letters of the alphabet to the taps of the leg’s table on the floor.


Prof. Rivail’s scientific mind scoffed the idea that tables had the capacity to think. But after attending the séance and conducting some experiments he was very impressed with the results. There was no doubt in his mind that the table did jump independently of the participants’ will and logically responded to their queries. Intrigued by the nature of the phenomenon, he participated in other meetings to continue his observations. When he asked the table how it could think without having a brain and a nervous system, the answer was that it was not the table that was thinking, but the souls of people who once lived on Earth. Surprised by this revelation, he started to ask questions in his own mind (without vocalizing them), to which the table gave proper answers. In order to avoid being deceived, he brought to the meetings questions written in a sealed envelope and unknown by any other participant. The questions were answered appropriately.


Convinced that the table was being handled by an intelligent being, Prof. Rivail wanted to expedite the communication with it since tapping out the alphabetic code was tedious and slow. He placed a small basket on the table with a pencil attached to it. He realized that just one person in the group, with a hand on top of the basket, could make the basket move and write whole sentences. Later he found that the basket was unnecessary, and the person could directly hold the pencil and serve as the medium (or intermediary) to intermediate the communications from the intelligent sources he called spirits. He continued conducting these meetings, asking thoughtful questions in order to exploit the scientific, philosophical and religious aspects of this new reality that it was being presented to him by the spirits. In order to rule out the influence of the medium in the communications, Prof. Rivail asked the same questions through several mediums in different meetings. After two years of intensive work, asking questions, compiling and organizing the material based on the agreement and universality of the answers, and adding his commentaries, he published in 1857 The Spirit’s Book under the pseudonym of Allan Kardec. This book is the foundation of what he called Spiritism, which is a science that studies the origin, nature and destiny of spirits as well the relationships that exist between the corporeal and spiritual worlds. Kardec also wrote The Mediums' Book (1861), The Gospel According to Spiritism (1864), Heaven and Hell (1865), and The Genesis (1868). These five books together comprise the codification of Spiritism. These and other publications were written during years of methodic investigation and rigorous analysis of information obtained by many mediums and many spiritist groups in France and other countries in Europe. This exchange of information was made through the monthly journal Spiritist Review, a Journal of Psychological Studies, and the Parisian Society of Psychological Studies, both founded (and directed) by Kardec in 1858.


Kardec was a progressive thinker with a strong sense of social justice, and a passionate educator who viewed education as an important tool to correct social imbalances. He was a self-taught person who was well versed in several subjects and a gifted writer with a deep knowledge of the French language (he also spoke fluent German and English). He was well known and well connected in the intellectual circles of Paris, and even without a university education he was a scholar who helped shaping the French educational system of his time. He firmly believed in the power of love and giving as well as in the power of reason and scientific observation.


Kardec passed away in March of 1869 after devoting the last fourteen years of his life to the research and development of the philosophical, scientific and religious foundations of Spiritism, which brings forth a renewed vision of our true spiritual nature, our relationship with the Creator, and the strong ties of brotherhood to which we are all connected.

The Spirits’ Book
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It was the first book Spiritism published by Allan Kardec in 1857, a mere nine years after the Fox Sisters triggered the Spiritual Renaissance. The book begins with a thorough introduction of Kardec’s observations and then contains several chapters of questions being posed with the corresponding answers that were revealed during his spiritist studies.

The Gospel According to Spiritism
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It was also published in 1865. This book was placed on the list of prohibited books by the Catholic Church because it examined the teachings of Christ and the Gospels under the lens of Spiritism.

The bulk of the book is an examination of each chapter of the Gospels in depth. He called into question the authenticity of the interpretations and translations of the Gospels without context of the Middle East first and second centuries. He also examined the teachings of Christ as a predecessor to Spiritism.

Heaven and Hell
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The Mediums’ Book
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It was published by Kardec in 1861. Through observation and conversation, he intended this book to be a manual of sorts for mediumship training. It also includes most of the fundamental tenets of Spiritism and ultimately became one of the foundations upon which serious parapsychological study was built through examinations of transfiguration, haunted houses, table tipping, apparitions and much more.

It was published in 1865. Kardec intentionally named this book after the quintessential work of philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg entitled Heaven and Hell (1758).

Divided into two parts, Heaven and Hell is split between Spirit answers about Heaven and Hell including the positives that the soul is eternal, death is not definitive and how there is always hope when life is viewed under the auspices of the soul cycle.

It was published in 186. The Genesis, Miracles and Premonition According to Spiritism was the last book published by Allan Kardec, just before his death. It tries to reconcile science and religion and develops a series of important scientific and philosophical topics, relating them to Spiritism.