History of Spiritism 

The Precursors To the Spiritst Codification 

       Developments leading directly to Kardec's research were the famous Fox sisters and the phenomenon of the Talking boards. Interest in Mesmerism also contributed to the early Spiritist practice.


           Emanuel Swedenborg (January 29, 1688 – March 29, 1772) was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, seer, and theologian. Swedenborg had a prolific career as an inventor and scientist. Then at age fifty-six he entered into a spiritual phase of his life, where he experienced visions of the spiritual world and claimed to have talked with angels, devils, and spirits by visiting heaven and hell. He claimed of being directed by God, the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal the doctrines of His second coming. From 1747 until his death in 1772 he lived in Stockholm, Holland and London. During these 25 years he wrote 14 works of a spiritual nature of which most were published during his lifetime.

          Throughout this period he was befriended by many people who regarded him as a kind and warm-hearted man. Many people disbelieved in his visions; based on what they had heard, they drew the conclusions that he had lost his mind or had a vivid imagination. But they refrained from ridiculing him in his presence. Those who talked with him understood that he was devoted to his beliefs. He never argued matters of religion, and if obliged to defend himself he usually did it with gentleness and in a few words


          Sisters Catherine (1838–92), Leah (1814–90) and Margaret (1836–93) Fox played an important role in the creation of Spiritualism. The daughters of David and Margaret Fox, they were residents of Hydesville, New York. In 1848, the family began to hear unexplained rapping sounds. Kate and Margaret conducted channeling sessions in an attempt to contact the presumed spiritual entity creating the sounds, and claimed contact with the spirit of a peddler who was allegedly murdered and buried beneath the house. A skeleton later found in the basement seemed to confirm this.The Fox girls became instant celebrities. They demonstrated their communication with the spirit by using taps and knocks, automatic writing, and later even voice communication, as the spirit took control of one of the girls.

           Skeptics suspected this was nothing but clever deception and fraud. Indeed, sister Margaret eventually confessed to using her toe-joints to produce the sound. And although she later recanted this confession, both she and her sister Catherine were widely considered discredited, and died in poverty. Nonetheless, belief in the ability to communicate with the dead grew rapidly, becoming a religious movement called Spiritualism, and contributing greatly to Kardec's ideas.


           Just after the news of the Fox affair came to France, people became even more interested in what was sometimes termed the "Spiritual Telegraph". In the beginning, a table spun with the "energy" from the spirits present by means of human channeling (hence the term "medium". But, as the process was too slow and cumbersome, a new one was devised, supposedly from a suggestion by the spirits themselves: the talking board.Early examples of talking boards were baskets attached to a pointy object that spun under the hands of the mediums, to point at letters printed on cards scattered around, or engraved on, the table. Such devices were called corbeille à bec ("basket with a beak"). The pointy object was usually a pencil.

            Talking boards were tricky to set up and to operate. A typical séance using a talking board saw people sitting at a round table, feet resting on the chairs' supports and hands on the table top or, later, on the talking board itself. The energy channeled from the spirits through their hands made the board spin around and find letters which, once written down by a scribe, would form intelligible words, phrases, and sentences. The system was an early, and less effective, precursor of the Ouija boards that later became so popular.


 Franz Anton Mesmer (May 23, 1734 – March 5, 1815) discovered what he called magnétism animal (animal magnetism) and others often called mesmerism. The evolution of Mesmer's ideas and practices led James Braid (1795-1860) to develop hypnosis in 1842.Spiritism incorporated and kept some practices inspired or directly taken from Mesmerism. Among them, the healing touch, still in Europe, and the "energization" of water to be used as a medicine for spirit and body.




          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 short, Rivail was a typical European scholar of his time, with a classical training in letters, positivist beliefs, an interest in the theoretical and applied development of science, and a professional specialization in teaching. But Rivail was not an orthodox positivist. Imbued with a great curiosity about phenomena unheeded and even shunned by official science, he belonged to the French Society of Magnetists. Hypnotism, sleepwalking, clairvoyance, and similar phenomena strongly attracted him. He studied them as physical phenomena resulting from unknown causes, an approach resulting from his being a follower of the theory of animal magnetism, called Mesmerism, expounded by Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815).

       Magnetism brought Rivail in contact with spiritism. He was by then fifty-one years old and had consolidated his scientific background. In the years 1854 and 1855, the so-called turning table and talking table invaded Europe from the United States and created an intense curiosity. Several people would sit around a table, hand in hand, in a state of mental concentration; after a certain lapse of time, the table would begin to rotate, to produce noises, and even to answer, in code, questions proposed by the participants. This practice became quite a fad, especially in the more elegant circles. Rivail was introduced by magnetist friends to such sessions, which were already accepted by their promoters as demonstrations of spiritual phenomena. He was initially skeptical about their authenticity but was soon to revise his opinion. Under his supervision, the sessions were no longer dedicated to frivolous consultations and guessing games but became serious study sessions.Rivail considered such phenomena both relevant and natural, though invisible, and believed one should adopt a "positivist and not an idealist" attitude toward them. If the conditions in which such phenomena manifested themselves hindered the use of common scientific instrumentation, he believed that one should at least

        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.

Pictured above(from left to right): (1)Jesus Christ(the greatest moral example for humankind, is deemed to have incarnated here to show us, through his example, the path that we have to take to achieve our own spiritual perfection;(2)Allan Kardec(The codifier of the Kardicist Spiritist Doctrine);(3)Emmanuel(well known Spiritual Guide who has written many books via psychography such as Laws of Love via automatic writing of Francisco Xavier & Waldo Vieira).



          Spiritism is a doctrine of scientific, philosophical and religious principles codified in the literary works of Allan Kardec. Spiritism can and should be studied, analyzed, and practiced in all the fundamental aspects of our lives, including the scientific, philosophical, religious, ethical, moral, educational, and social characteristics of life. Spiritism reveals new and more profound concepts with respect to God, the Universe, Human Beings, Spirits, and Laws which govern life itself. It also reveals what we are, the objective of our existence, and the reasons for pain and suffering. By providing new concepts about Human Beings and everything that surrounds us, Spiritism touches on all areas of knowledge, human activities and behavior, thus opening a new era for the regeneration of Humanity.

        Kardec described Spiritism as a "science which deals with the nature, origin and destiny of spirits, as well as their relationship with the corporeal world." Kardec also wrote that Spiritism realizes Jesus' promise "to bring knowledge of those things which allow Man to know where he came from, where he is going and why he is on Earth; therefore guiding mankind towards the true principles of God's law and offering consolation through faith and hope.

        The Spiritist Doctrine is primarily based on the first five books written by Kardec in French from 1857 to 1868: The Spirits' Book, The Mediums' Book, The Gospel According to Spiritism, Heaven and Hell, and Genesis.A result of a collaboration between hundreds of intelligences in both planes of life, these five books were intended to serve as the foundation to Spiritism, a progressive body of knowledge that has continued to grow to near 1,000 books since Kardec first published, “The Spirits’ Book” in 1857.Each book is written in an identical format, with questions made by Allan Kardec, followed by answers to such questions dictated by Spirits. The collection of books is called, "The Five Fundamental Works of Spiritism", given that the compilation of several explanations of the Spiritism Doctrine, as well as religious teachings and essays on the spirit world, mediumship, miracles, paranormal and supernatural phenomena, etc. found within tbem provided the blueprint of the Spiritism Movement. Likewise, the series of books is also referred to as, "The Spiritist Codification", because they served as as the set of works that helped organize and shape (codify) the specific spirit teachings that came to be known as Spiritism. Before his death in 1869,Kardec also pblished his last literary works, The Spiritist Review, Posthumous Works, and What is Spiritism?, before his death in 1869.