Great Spiritualists and Friends

Kardec, Allan (Hippolyte Léon Dénizarth Rivail; Lyons, France, October 3, 1804 - March 31, 1869)
Institution / Country:France

Allan Kardec, the nom de plume of Hippolyte Léon Dénizarth Rivail (October 3, 1804 to March 31, 1869) was a French educator and philosopher who became a psychical researcher. Unlike most psychical researchers, Kardec was not concerned with collecting evidence of the survival of human conscious. He was quickly convinced of survival and of the reality of spirit communication; therefore his research was aimed at learning higher truths from elevated spirits. His research led to the philosophy known as Spiritism, still widely practiced in various countries today, especially Brazil.

Born in Lyons to a distinguished family, Kardec was educated at the Institute of Pestalozzi at Yverdum. He had intended to enter the legal profession, as had his father and grandfather, but in 1828 he purchased a school for boys and devoted himself to education. In 1830, at age 25, he began giving gratuitous lectures to the public on chemistry, physics, comparative anatomy, and astronomy. Under his given name, he authored a number of works aimed at improving education in the public school of France, including A Plan for the Improvement of Public Instruction (1828) and A Classical Grammar of the French Tongue (1831).

The spiritualism epidemic ignited by the strange rappings in the Hydesville, New York home of the Fox family during March 1848, reached France in 1850. According to French philosopher and historian Ernest Bersot, it quickly became a passion. People sat around tables for hours in anxious expectation of hearing from the spirits. During the winter, there was no other social occupation or topic. The Catholic Church condemned it, but few paid attention. It was in 1854, at the age of 50, that Kardec began investigating mediums.

“Foreseeing the vast importance to science and religion of such an extension of the field of human observation, he entered at once upon a careful investigation of the (mediumship) phenomena,” Anna Blackwell, who translated Kardec’s works from French to English, wrote in the preface to Le Livre des Espirits (The Spirits’ Book), first published in 1857.

Blackwell, who lived in England, went on to explain that a friend of Kardec’s had two teen-aged daughters who were mediums. Most of the messages coming through the two young ladies, the Boudin sisters, were frivolous and mundane, but when Kardec was present the messages became serious and profound. When Kardec inquired as to the cause of the change in disposition, he was informed that “spirits of a much higher order than those who habitually communicated through the two young mediums came expressly for him, and would continue to do so, in order to enable him to fulfill an important religious mission.”

Among the enlightened spirits purportedly communicating with Kardec were John the Evangelist, St. Augustine, St. Vincent De Paul, St. Louis, “The Spirit of Truth,” Socrates, Plato, Fénélon, Franklin, and Swedenborg.

Kardec would meet with one or both of the mediums a couple of evenings every week and put questions to the spirits. According to Blackwell, the information received by Kardec was well beyond the comprehension of the two mediums and “they were as little capable of appreciating it as of inventing [it].”

Kardec approached his investigation scientifically, searching for mechanistic explanations. He explained that the earliest manifestations of intelligence were made by the legs of tables moving up and down a given number of times to reply “yes” or “no” to questions asked. Fuller replies were later obtained by a number of tilts or blows corresponding to the number of each letter of the alphabet, so that words and sentences began to be produced in reply to questions. But more rapid responses were later received with the planchette, a basket with a pencil centered in and moved by the same occult power that moved the tables and gave the raps. It was a form of “direct writing,” the spirits delivering messages by means of the pencil with no human hand holding the instrument.

The sessions with the Boudin sisters went on for nearly two years before Kardec decided to put the messages in book form. His spirit instructors sanctioned the publication and Kardec was told by them that he should adopt the name Allan Kardec, apparently an old British name in his mother’s family.

When Kardec asked why conflicting information came from spirits, he received this answer: “All spirits are not equally enlightened in regard to these matters. Some spirits are so little advanced intellectually as to be incapable of understanding abstract ideas; they are like children in your world. Other spirits are full of false learning, and make a vain parade of words in order to impose their authority upon those who listen to them. They, also, resemble too many in your world. And besides, even spirits who are really enlightened may express themselves in terms which appear to be different, but which, at bottom, mean the same thing, especially in regard to matters which your language is incapable of expressing clearly, and which can only be spoken of to you by means of figures and comparisons that you mistake for literal statements of fact.”

The first publication of The Spirits’ Book contained only information gleaned from the spirits communicating through the two sisters, but a revised edition, the one remaining in circulation, includes messages from other spirits through other mediums. According to Blackwell, the book “sold with great rapidity, making converts not in France only, but all over the Continent, and rendering the name of Allan Kardec a household word…”

Kardec called the philosophy coming from the spirits Spiritism. While the body of knowledge Kardec was developing was similar to what in England and the United States was developing as Spiritualism, Spiritism was more unified, and, unlike much of Spiritualism, embraced reincarnation. Its basic tenet is that we are immortals souls continually evolving through higher and higher realms of existence.

Kardec continued communicating with spirits until his death in 1869. He also wrote, Christian Spiritism, The Gospel – Explained by the Spiritist Doctrine, The Medium’s Book, Heaven and Hell, and Genesis.

Text and photo of Allan Kardec courtesy of Michael Tymn, author of The Articulate Dead where Michael examines several of the best mediums of yesteryear and the scientific research surrounding them.