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Spiritism is a spiritualistic philosophy codified in the 19th century by the French educator Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, under the codename Allan Kardec; it proposed the study of "the nature, origin, and destiny of spirits, and their relation with the corporeal world". Spiritism soon spread to other countries, having today 35 countries represented in the International Spiritist Council.
Spiritism postulates that humans are essentially immortal spirits that temporarily inhabit physical bodies for several necessary incarnations to attain moral and intellectual improvement. It also asserts that spirits, through passive or active mediumship, may have beneficent or maleficent influence on the physical world.
Spiritism has influenced a social movement of healing centers, charity institutions and hospitals involving millions of people in dozens of countries, with the greatest number of adherents in Brazil. Spiritism was also very influential in the new Vietnamese religion called Cao ?ài or Caodaism, born in 1926 after three spirit mediums received messages that identified Allan Kardec as a prophet of a new universal religion. After 1975, Caodaism was almost closed down by the Vietnamese government, but it has now re-emerged on the public scene and Caodaists recently visited the Kardec Spiritist Center in Lyon to re-establish contacts with the legacy of French Spiritism. There are about four million Caodaists in Vietnam and in the Vietnamese diaspora, so they are the largest Spiritist group in Asia.
Spiritism is based on the five books of the Spiritist Codification written by French educator Hypolite Léon Denizard Rivail under the pseudonym Allan Kardec, in which he reported observations of phenomena at séances that he attributed to incorporeal intelligence (spirits). His work was later extended by writers such as Léon Denis, Gabriel Delanne, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernesto Bozzano, Gustav Geley, Chico Xavier, Divaldo Pereira Franco, Emídio Brasileiro, Alexandr Aksakov, William Crookes, Oliver Lodge, Albert de Rochas, and Amalia Domingo Soler. Kardec's research was influenced by the Fox sisters and the use of talking boards. Interest in Mesmerism also contributed to early Spiritism.
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. At 56, he claimed to have experienced visions of the spiritual world and talked with angels, devils, and spirits by visiting heaven and hell. He claimed he was directed by the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal the doctrines of his second coming.
Swedenborg, however, warned against seeking contact with spirits. In his work Apocalypse Explained, #1182.4, he wrote, "Many persons believe that man can be taught by the Lord by means of spirits speaking with him. But those who believe this, and desire to do so, are not aware that it is associated with danger to their souls." See also Heaven and Hell #249
Nevertheless, Swedenborg is often cited by Spiritists as a major precursor for their beliefs.
Sisters Catherine (1838-92), Leah (1814-90) and Margaret (1836-93) Fox played an important role in the development of Spiritism. 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 or psychography, and later even voice communication, as the spirit took control of one of the girls.
Skeptics suspected this was deception and fraud, and sister Margaret eventually confessed to using her toe-joints to produce the sound. Although she later recanted this confession, 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, which contributed significantly to Kardec's ideas.
After the news of the Fox sisters came to France, people became more interested in what was sometimes termed the "Spiritual Telegraph".Planchette, the precursor of the pencil-less Ouija boards, simplified the writing process which achieved widespread popularity in America and Europe.
Franz Anton Mesmer (May 23, 1734 - March 5, 1815) discovered what he called magnétisme animal (animal magnetism), which became known as mesmerism. The evolution of Mesmer's ideas and practices led Scottish surgeon James Braid (1795-1860) to develop hypnotism in 1841.
In What Is Spiritism?, Kardec calls spiritism a science dedicated to the relationship between incorporeal beings (spirits) and human beings. Thus, some spiritists see themselves as not adhering to a religion, but to a philosophical doctrine with a scientific fulcrum and moral grounds.
Another author in the Spiritualist movement, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle included a chapter about Spiritism in his book History of Spiritualism, in which he states that Spiritism is Spiritualist, but not vice versa. As a consequence, many Spiritualist works are widely accepted in Spiritism, particularly the works of 19th century physicists William Crookes and Oliver Lodge.
The basic doctrine of Spiritism ("the Codification") is defined in five of Allan Kardec's books:
Kardec also wrote a brief introductory pamphlet (What Is Spiritism?) and was the most frequent contributor to the Spiritist Review. His essays and articles were posthumously collected into the Posthumous Works.
As defined in The Spirits' Book, the main principles of spiritism are:
According to Kardec, the Spiritist moral principles are in agreement with those taught by Jesus. Other individuals such as Francis of Assisi, Paul the Apostle, Buddha and Gandhi are also sometimes considered[clarification needed] by the spiritists. Spiritist philosophical inquiry is concerned with the study of moral aspects in the context of an eternal life in spiritual evolution through reincarnation, a process believers hold as revealed by Spirits. Sympathetic research on Spiritism by scientists[weasel words] can be found in the works of Oliver Lodge, William Crookes, William Fletcher Barrett, Albert de Rochas, Emma Bragdon, Alexander Moreira-Almeida and others.
The central tenet of Spiritism is the belief in spiritual life. From this perspective, the spirit is eternal, and evolves through a series of incarnations in the material world. It asserts that life in the material world is a short-term stage, where the spirit has the opportunity to learn and develop its potential. Reincarnation is considered the process where the spirit, once free in the spiritual world, comes back to the world for further learning.
Spiritists consider Jesus to be the greatest moral example for humankind. They believe he incarnated on earth to demonstrate the path to achieve spiritual perfection. In this way, Spiritism identifies as a form of Christianity, claiming it is based on Jesus Christ's teachings, despite having an interpretation that differs from those held by mainstream Christian denominations. The Gospels are studied and interpreted in Spiritism; it asserts that some of Jesus' words and actions are clarified in the light of the spiritual phenomena (presented as law of nature, and not as something miraculous).
Spiritists assert that communication between the spiritual world and the material world happens all the time, to varying degrees[clarification needed]. They believe that some people barely sense what the spirits tell them in an entirely instinctive way, and are not aware about their influence. In contrast, they believe that mediums have these natural abilities highly developed, and are able to communicate with spirits and interact with them visually or audibly, or through writing (known by Kardecists as psychography or automatic writing).(See The Book of Mediums by Allan Kardec Chapters X to XIII)
Kardec's works do not establish any rituals or formal practices. Instead, the doctrine suggests that followers adhere to some principles common to all religions. The religious experience within spiritism is, therefore, largely informal.
Spiritist associations have various degrees of formality, with some groups having local, regional, national or international scope. Local organizations are usually called Spiritist centres or Spiritist societies. Regional and national organizations are called federations, such as the Federação Espírita Brasileira and the Federación Espírita Española; international organizations are called unions, such as the Union Spirite Française et Francophone. Spiritist centres (especially in Brazil) are often active book publishers and promoters of Esperanto.[clarification needed]
For many of its followers, the description of Spiritism is three-fold: science, for its studies on the mechanisms of mediumship; philosophy, for its theories on the origin, meaning and importance of life; and religion, for its guidance on Christian behavior which will bring spiritual and moral evolution to mankind. Spiritism is not considered a religion by some of its followers because it does not endorse formal adoration, require regular frequency or formal membership. However, the mainstream scientific community does not accept Spiritism as scientific, and its belief system fits within the definition of religion.
Spiritism has adherents in many countries, including Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Jamaica, Japan, Portugal, Spain, United States, and particularly in Latin American countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil, which has the largest proportion and greatest number of followers. The largest Spiritist group in Asia are the Vietnamese followers of Cao ?ài or Caodaists, who formed a new religion building on the legacy of Allan Kardec in 1926 in Saigon and Tây Ninh in what was then French Indochina 
In Brazil, the movement has become widely accepted, largely due to Chico Xavier's works. The official spiritist community there has about 20 million adepts, although some elements of spiritism are more broadly accepted and practiced in various ways by three times as many people across the country. Some statistics[weasel words] suggest an adherence to Spiritist practices by 40 million people in Brazil.
In the Philippines, there is the Union Espiritista Cristiana de Filipinas, Incorporada (Union of Christian Spiritists in the Philippines, Inc.), which was founded at the turn of the 1900s and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1905. The religious organization, which uses human mediums to communicate with spirits that have already attained purity or divinity for moral and spiritual guidance, has tens of thousands of members and worship centers in many parts of the country, mostly in Northern Luzon, Central Luzon and the National Capital Region. Its motto: "Towards God through wisdom and love." Its doctrine: "Without charity (good deed), there is no possible salvation." It uses the Holy Bible as the basis of its teachings, supplemented by messages from divine spirits.
Since its early development, Spiritism has attracted criticism. Kardec's own introductory book on Spiritism, What is Spiritism?, published only two years after The Spirits' Book, includes a hypothetical discussion between him and three idealized critics, "The Critic", "The Skeptic", and "The Priest", summing up much of the criticism Spiritism has received. The broad areas of criticism relate to charlatanism, pseudoscience, heresy, witchcraft, and Satanism. Until his death, Kardec continued to address these issues in various books and in his periodical, the Revue Spirite.
During the interwar period a new form of criticism of Spiritism developed. René Guénon's influential book The Spiritist Fallacy criticized both the more general concepts of Spiritualism, which he considered to be a superficial mix of moralism and spiritual materialism, as well as Spiritism's specific contributions, such as its belief in what he saw as a post-Cartesian, modernist concept of reincarnation distinct from and opposed to its two western predecessors, metempsychosis and transmigration.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 2117) states that "Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it".
In Brazil, Catholic priests Carlos Kloppenburg and Oscar González Quevedo, among others, have written extensively against Spiritism from both a doctrinal and parapsychological perspective. Quevedo, in particular, has sought to show that Spiritism's claims of being a science are invalid. In addition to writing books on the subject, he has also hosted television programs debunking supposed paranormal phenomena, most recently in a series that ran in 2000 on Globo's news program, Fantástico. Brazilian Spiritist, Hernani Guimarães Andrade, has in turn written rebuttals to these criticisms.
Chico Xavier (April 2, 1910 - June 30, 2002) was a popular spiritist medium and philanthropist in Brazil's spiritism movement who wrote more than 450 books and about 10,000 letters to family members of deceased people, ostensibly using psychography. His books sold millions of copies, all of which had their proceeds donated to charity.
They purportedly included poetry, novels, and even scientific treatises, some of which are considered by Brazilian spiritist followers to be fundamental for the comprehension of the practical and theoretical aspects of Allan Kardec's doctrine. One of his most famous,The Astral City, details one experience after dying.
The following works contain concepts related to spiritist beliefs:
In Brazil, a number of soap operas have plots incorporating Spiritism.
In my eyes, Allan Kardec and Flammarion, Andrew Jackson Davis and Judge Edmonds, are but schoolboys just trying to spell their A B C and sorely blundering sometimes.
For a list of writings by Allan Kardec see his biographic article.