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Spiritualism is a doctrine that affirms the existence of a superior and anterior entity to being. This doctrine also proclaims the existence of spiritual and moral values. However, it should not be confused spirituality and spiritualism. Spirituality, understood as including search of the good life, can be the subject of both materialistic doctrines (as Epicureanism, for example) as spiritualists.


Spiritism is considered, according to sources, as superstition, as an occult science or as a doctrine. It is based on the belief that some paranormal phenomena are the means for beyond entities, called “spirits”, usually dead people, to communicate with the living. This word therefore applies, broadly, at a current patchwork where practitioners, called “spiritists,” communicate with these “spirits” by various means, as subjects in a trance (midrange) or inanimate materials (rotating tables…).

The term spiritism also refers to, by extension, the teachings revealed during these communications, including the spiritism initiated by the Fox sisters in 1847, the first expression of this theory, and after them the spirit doctrine of Allan Kardec, pseudonym of the teacher Hippolyte Léon Rivail Denizard, inventor of the word “spiritism.”

By generalization, some specialists authors of this area speak of spiritism in all tradition, ancient or current, performing worship or rites invoking the non-physical entities that are the soul of the dead, angels, demons etc.

Practiced in many countries in various forms, it is in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, where the spiritism today sees its largest extension.

Sometimes presented as a religion, it currently has between 6 and 50 million practitioners estimated.

Point out

In everyday language, the word “spiritism” means the practices popularized in the United States by the Fox sisters from 1848, like that of “turntables” and all methods to communicate with the beyond. In fact, there is here a misnomer, although the use dedicated it, since the word was coined by Allan Kardec, in 1857, to describe his doctrine. Until then there was talk of “magnetic phenomena”, of “phenomena of spiritualism,” or “modern spiritualism” or “American spiritualism”. If the term has established quickly, it is because it allowed to lift a lexical ambiguity. Indeed, the meaning of spiritualism went wrong in some sense, because that word already had a meaning, that of philosophical spiritualism. Thus, the word “spiritism”, originally designed exclusively for naming the spiritualist doctrine, is gradually applied to all beliefs and activities related to communication with spirits, worldwide.

Depending on whether one counts only the followers of the spirit doctrine in Brazil or those of various forms of spiritism, their number is estimated at between 6,000,000 and up to 50 million, with an average estimate of 13.5 million spiritualists essentially in Latin America.

Spiritism is not a religion in the sense that it contains neither dogma nor ritual, nor worship, nor hierarchy, according to the usual definitions of what constitutes a religion. However, several encyclopedias rank spiritism among the religions.

Origins of spiritism

Modern spiritism is generally presented as the continuity of an ancestral tradition common to most civilizations. From the Greek oracle at American shaman, including the African griot, or marabout, those responsible to contact the spirit world (one of the deceased, angels, gods, demons), or otherwise charged with the preservation, characterize multiple cultures. Rene Guenon, in his book L’Erreur spirite, considered that the explanations given by the modern spiritism about strange phenomena known since ancient times was a mistake.

The traditions through the ages

In ancient Mesopotamia

For the Assyrians and Babylonians, the dead were a breath, a vapor. They could haunt houses. The fate of the men was fixed in the next world. The dead know our destiny and could give advice.

In ancient Egypt

The Egyptians believed in a kha, which some have linked to perispirit of deadm where the meaning of the term “perispirit” is given by spiritism. This is what they were trying to hold kha in the tomb by preparing offerings. Under certain conditions they invoked the dead to get premonitory dream from them.

In the Hebrew tradition

The law of Moses, Deuteronomy, forbade Hebrew to query and invoke the ghosts of the dead. According to the First Book of Samuel, Saul nevertheless consulted the necromancer of Endor to talk with the spirit of Samuel before a battle against the Philistines.

In Western Antiquity

Celtic druid(Artist’s impression of a Celtic druid)

In Gaul, the Druids, particularly the vates, regularly invoked the dead in stone enclosures built by nature. They are consulted by people and rulers. This was the case of Vercingetorix which, before lifting Gaul against Caesar, went to the priestesses of Sein Island to see the souls of dead heroes. At the same time, the Nordic religions were built around the permanent communication between the clan and his protected deceased, since they were holders of full knowledge. A communication is more permanent if there is no real border between the two worlds.

In Greek tradition

In ancient Greece, the evocation of the dead was codified, communication with the dead was part of the religion, it had its priests, temples, and even its annual festival.

In the Roman tradition

The Roman world that gives itself willingly to magical practices, reproved almost all time in its laws, from the Law of the Twelve Tables, but it did not seem to target the necromancers. The imperial, authoritarian regime did not like the soothsayers who, as far as sellers of potions and charms, could encourage ambitious in the assault of power: Tiberius, Nero, Claude, Diocletian raged without success, as evidenced by many witch trials. By culture and tradition, the emperor, generals, and all the people of ancient Rome flocked to the sibyls, prophetesses whose ministry based on communication with the beyond which was first exercised in Greece before being popularized in all parts of the vast empire. The most famous of these was the Sibyl of Cuma, priestess of Apollo. It wrote the oracles which reached her from the dead.

In the tradition of the Gospels

Some writers of the Gospels compare the angels to the spirits and use these two words as synonyms. In Greek (the language of the Gospels) the word “angel” means exactly “messenger” of the afterlife. Mary dialogue with the Angel Gabriel and Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah, both yet dead at the time of this discussions. Even if this is a discussion between humans and spirits, the touch with spiritism is that of apparitions and come from dead following invocations. The future is not revealed at the request of the human but, rather, the spirit is the messenger of God.

In the tradition of Islam

Muhammad speaks with the angel Gabriel. Furthermore, invisible jinn (or jinn) can occur in everyday life. The marabout is a traditional figure of Africa. Muslim mystics claim to be in contact with the beyond. Finally, the manifestation of the deceased is considered a possibility by most schools of thought in Islam.

In Shintoism

According to the ancient religion of Japan, a considerable number of invisible spirits act permanently in terrestrial events.

In early traditions of animism

Shaman of the Amazon(Shaman of the Amazon in 1988, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Urarina_shaman_B_Dean.jpg)

Most traditions, say the firsts, maintain communication with the beyond through shamanism. The shamans of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Asia, the far north of Europe, Africa and Oceania, provide the link between the visible and the invisible. The exchanges with the dead represent only part of their duties. Shamanism still continues today.

In the tradition of voodoo

Called candomblé in Brazil and santeria in Cuba, voodoo is a variation of traditional African rites imported by former slaves. The spirits of the dead are honored at funerals and may take possession of dancers during their rhythmic ceremonies of intoxicating music.

Advent of Christianity in Europe

With Christianity, the idea is spreading that the influence of demons on earth is limited to the spiritual realm (Council of Braga decided it is impossible for the devil to be the origin of natural disasters) and puts a brake to spiritualism.

From the year 318, Emperor Constantine, as many of his non-Christian predecessors, published a decree prohibiting “communication with departed souls.” Some temples of sibyls are then destroyed. During the following centuries the clergy fight against this practice that was the strength of the ancient religions and the power of their clergy and generally associated to the devil.

Necromancy becomes synonymous with black magic, in the sense that we consider that they are demons that manifest instead of spirits. This is the opinion of Lactantius  (300) and Augustine, as in most of the Fathers of the Church in the Middle Ages:

  • God forbidding ancient tribes of Israel to try to communicate with the dead (Deuteronomy), the response to such invocation is disobedience that can only come from demons
  • In Christian anthropology, man is free, he has no destiny, so it is impossible to predict its future. Every word on its future can be only a lie. (In contrast, the prophecy is always conditional; it is a warning in the form of call to penance, to the consequences of a harmful behavior).

The survival of necromancy

In the twelfth century through Latin translations of Arabic, necromancy, elevated to the dignity of science, becomes almost knowledge being treated as such. The nigromantiques experiences are found in magic treated as Picatrix, Liber sacratus,  or Liber vaccae flowing from the thirteenth century and which it is ensured that they were read with attention in literary circles, royal courts, princely, and up to the Roman Curia. In the fourteenth century, numerous lawsuits involving senior figures or scholars like Cecco d’Ascoli (1327) attest this intellectual ferment around the nigromancie.

In the fifteenth century, the tone changes. The idea of ​​commerce with demons, shift to that of pact with the devil and it is thought that the wizards, witches and above, constitute a sect which aims to overthrow the Christian order.

Interest in necromancy however is not extinguished and even perpetuated within the ecclesiastical elite tolerated under pretexts.

The precursors

John Dee

John Dee (1527 – 1608), was a mathematician and astrologer who testified communication with angels through mediums.

Emmanuel Swedenborg

Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772) was the first modern scientist to publish a large literature based on visions he claimed to receive from the beyond and he claimed to have exchanges with angels and spirits. This scholar showed himself versatile, both mathematician and theologian, physicist and naturalist. With his fame, he decided at age 56 to devote himself to the “mystery of the soul.” He spent the last 27 years of his life to be with “the spirit world”, “good and bad”. He produced ten books inspired by her visions of the afterlife. His ideas encouraged new ways of thinking, as martinism or the Theosophists.

Justinus Kerner

Justinus Kerner (1786-1862), published an account of his observations under the title Die Seherin von Prevorst, Eröffnungen über das innere Leben des Menschen und über das Hineinragen einer Geisterwelt in die unsere (The seer of Prevorst, inaugural considerations on the inner life of the human being and the intervention of a spirit world in ours)

Franz Anton Mesmer

Following the discovery of “animal magnetism”, Franz Anton Mesmer developed a method called mesmerism. It was then a new therapeutic linked to an original way of thinking about health and disease. In 1779, in a memoir on the discovery of animal magnetism, Mesmer exhibited in twenty-seven points the principles of his system. He stated that a physical fluid fills the universe and connects people, animals, the earth and celestial bodies among themselves. The disease is the result of engorgement of the “energy” in some places of the body. Restoring smooth flow of the fluid would promote healing. One of the disciples of Mesmer, Marc Armand Jacques de Chastenet de Puységur, made the discovery of the magnetic somnambulism, the former name of hypnosis. Studies of fluid of living beings will be strengthen by Allan Kardec in his theory that this fluid is the means used by the spirits to manifest.

Translated from Wikipedia

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