‘The Spirits Book’ (1857), written by Allan Kardec, is widely regarded as the most important piece of writing in the ‘Spiritist’ canon. It is the first in a series of five books that Kardec wrote that are collectively known as the ‘Spiritist Codification’. Although the other four books; ‘The Medium’s Book’, ‘The Gospel According to Spiritism’, ‘Heaven and Hell’ and ‘The Genesis According to Spiritism’ are of great importance to the Spiritist movement it is ‘The Spirits Book’ that lays out the doctrine of the belief system.
The Spiritist movement was founded by Allen Kardec and although its roots lay in Spiritualism there are differences in belief. The most important of these differences is the Spiritist belief in reincarnation. Although some Spiritualists believe in reincarnation and some do not, all Spiritists consider it as a basic truth of their ideology.
In the 1850’s, whilst investigating the afterlife, Kardec communicated in séances with a collection of spirits named ‘The Spirit of Truth’ who discussed many important topics such as life after death, good and evil, the universe and the origin of spirits, amongst others. ‘The Spirit of Truth’ counted many of history’s great thinkers amongst its number such as Thomas of Aquino, Voltaire and Augustine of Hippo. Over time and after several sessions with the group Kardec had gathered enough information to convince him of life after death and he was compelled to spread the teachings of ‘The Spirit of Truth’. He ‘codified’ their comments and listed them as answers to questions and this is the content of ‘The Spirits Book’.
The subjects that Kardec discusses, via ‘The Spirit of Truth’, laid down the foundations for the Spiritist philosophy and all of the concepts that would become, and still are, key to the movement’s thinking have their genesis in the book. The belief that there is one Supreme Being, God, who created everything in the universe, is postulated. According to the text the Devil does not exist and Jesus is a messenger of God.
Although the book does not refer to Jesus as the son of God and no mention is made of the ‘immaculate conception’ he is considered God’s perfect messenger and his teachings are to be adhered to. Reincarnation and the survival of the soul after death are vital beliefs and it is stated that it is through reincarnation that lessons are learnt that can be taken into the next life and that every life moves the soul closer to perfection. According to the book man is made up of three separate elements; the body, the spirit and the spiritual body. One’s spirit also predates the matter of the universe and will outlast it.
After the publication of ‘The Spirits Book’ Kardec’s Spiritist doctrine began to take root, firstly in France from where it spread throughout Europe and found its way to North America. Most significant, however, was the reaction to Spiritism in South America. In Brazil the Spiritist movement swept across the nation and it is still one of the country’s main religions to this day with millions of Kardec’s followers from Brazil visiting his tombstone in Paris every year.
About the author
The figure-head of the Spiritist movement, Allan Kardec, was born Hippolyte Leon Denizard Rivail on October 3rd, 1804, in Lyon, France. He came from a long line of lawyers and legal professionals and was expected to follow suit but broke with family tradition to explore his interests in philosophy and the sciences.
Hippolyte finished his studies in Switzerland where he became an acolyte and colleague of the famed educational maverick Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. By the time he had finished his education Rivail had quite a collection of qualifications and skills such as Bachelor of the Arts degrees in science and letters and a doctorate in medicine. He was also fluent in Spanish, German, Italian and English and all of the talents and honours he had acquired made him an ideal collaborator for Pestalozzi. Hippolyte’s work with Pestalozzi helped to lay the foundations for the teaching model in schools in France and Germany.
He was a member of many scientific societies and wrote extensively on various subjects and one of his papers, ‘Which System of Study Is Most Harmonious with the Needs of the Time?’, lead to his induction in the Royal Academy of Arras. Rivail’s interests in science expanded beyond conventional studies and by the early 1850’s he had taken an interest in Franz Mesmer’s theory of ‘animal magnetism’.
Mesmer’s theory was all the rage in the upper reaches of society and so was the phenomenon of ‘spirit tapping’. Spirit tapping had become very popular in France and the USA and it involved the apparent unaided movement of objects by spirit forces to answer questions by tapping out noises on surfaces with the amount of knocks translating to numbers of the alphabet. Such widespread fascination in the incidents piqued the interest of Rivail and so he decided to investigate the strange goings on.
He attended his first séance in the May of 1855 and recorded his thoughts on this initial exposure to the phenomenon:
“These meetings provided me with my first opportunity for serious studies of the subject that later led to the Spiritist Doctrine-study filled less with revelation and more with systematic observation. As to any new subject, I applied rigorous method to the investigation: avoiding preconceived notions, I observed attentively, compared observations, and deduced the consequences. I tried to identify the causes of the phenomena by linking the facts logically, and I did not accept an explanation as valid unless it could resolve all the difficulties of the question. This was the way I had always, from the age of fifteen or sixteen, proceeded in my scientific investigations. I understood from the beginning the gravity of the exploration I was undertaking. I foresaw in those phenomena, the key to the solution of problems so obscure and so disputed, both in the past and in the future, which I had searched for all my life; the phenomena posed a complete revolution in ideas and beliefs. It was necessary, therefore, to act not lightly, but rather with circumspection, to be positive rather than idealistic, so as not to be carried away by illusions.”
During the many séances he attended Kardec communicated with a collection of entities that called themselves ‘The Spirit of Truth’. The group talked about many lofty subjects such as life after death, good and evil, the universe and the origin of spirits, amongst others. Thomas of Aquino, Voltaire and Augustine of Hippo all came through in the sessions and after a number of séances with the group Revail decided there was enough proof to convince him that there was life after death. Sensing that his revelation wasn’t meant just for him he decided to spread the message and ‘codified’ the Spirit of Truth’s teachings and listed them as answers to questions.
The resulting text made up his first book on the topic, ‘The Spirits Book’, and the book was published under the pseudonym of Allan Kardec. Sources vary on why he chose the name with some suggesting it was an old Breton name from his mother’s family with others postulating that in his séances with the group he had been communicating with an entity named Zefiro who told him that in a former life he had been a Druid named Allan Kardec. Whatever the genesis of the soubriquet the reason he decided to use this as his pen name is not so disputed: he simply wanted to distinguish his Spiritist writing from his formal educational texts.
The Spirits Book was the first of five texts he wrote, collectively known as the ‘Spiritist Codification’, that laid out the Spiritist doctrine with the other four books, The Medium’s Book, The Gospel According to Spiritism, Heaven and Hell and The Genesis According to Spiritism, making up the number.
The Spirits Book was released 1857 and it didn’t take long for Spiritism to become popular and spread far beyond France. People in many other European countries followed Kardec’s lead and Spiritism found its way to North America where it travelled south to Brazil where Kardec’s doctrine still has millions of followers to this very day.
Many of Kardec’s contemporaries, such as famed French astronomer Camille Flammarion, expressed their belief in Spritism and it was Flammarion who read the eulogy at Kardec’s funeral after he died from an aneurysm in 1869. To this day his grave is one of the most visited in Paris with his legions of followers, many from Brazil, flocking there each year to leave messages and flowers.
After his death his work and message was continued and expanded upon by Leon Denis who had been converted to Spiritism after reading The Spirits Book of which he said the following; “I found in this book the clear solution, complete and logical, to a universal problem. My conviction became strong and sound. The Spiritist Theory dissipated my indifference and my doubts.”
1. FORMATION OF WORLDS
2. PRODUCTION OF LIVING BEING
3. PEOPLING OF THE EARTH ADAM
4. DIVERSITY OF HUMAN RACE
5. PLURALITY OF WORLD
6. THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNT OF THE CREATION
Formation of Worlds
The universe comprises the infinity of worlds, both of those we see and those we do not see all animate and inanimate beings all the stars that revolve in space, and all fluids with which space is filled.
37. Has the universe been created, or has it existed from all eternity, like God?
“Assuredly the universe cannot have made itself; and if it had existed from all eternity, like God, it could not be the work of God.”
Reason tells us that the universe cannot have made itself, and that, as it could not be the work of chance, it must be the work of God.
38. How did God create the universe?
“To borrow a well-known expression, by His will. Nothing can give a better idea of the action of that all-powerful will than those grand words of Genesis, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
39. Can we know how worlds are formed?
“All that can be said on this subject, within the limits of your comprehension, is this: Worlds are formed by the condensation of the matter disseminated in space.”
40. Are comets, as is now supposed, a commencement of condensation of the primitive matter-worlds in course of formation?
“Yes; but it is absurd to believe in the influence attributed to them. I mean, the influence which is commonly attributed to them; for all the heavenly bodies have their share of influence in the production of certain physical phenomena.”
41. Is it possible for a completely formed world to disappear, and for the matter of which it is composed to be again disseminated in space?
“Yes. God renews worlds as He renews the living beings that inhabit them.”
42. Can we know the length of time employed in the formation of worlds-of the earth, for instance?
“This is a matter in regard to which I can tell you nothing, for it is only known to the Creator; and foolish indeed would he be who should pretend to possess such knowledge, or to number the ages of such a formation.”
Production of Living Beings
43. When did the earth begin to be peopled?
“In the beginning all was chaos; the elements were mixed up in a state of confusion. Gradually those elements settled into their proper places, and then appeared the orders of living beings appropriate to the successive states of the globe.”
44. Whence came the living beings that appeared upon the earth?
“The germs of these were contained in the earth itself, awaiting the favorable moment for their development. The organic principles came together on the cessation of the force which held them asunder, and those principles formed the germs of all the living beings that have peopled the earth. Those germs remained latent and inert, like the chrysalis and the seed of plants, until the arrival of the proper moment for the vivification of each species. The beings of each species then came together and multiplied.”
45. Where were the organic elements before the formation of the earth?
“They existed, so to say in the fluidic state, in space, in the midst of the spirits, or in other planets, awaiting the creation of the earth in order to begin a new existence on a new globe.”
Chemistry shows us the molecules of inorganic bodies uniting to produce crystals of regular forms that are invariable for each species, as soon as those molecules find themselves in the conditions necessary to their combination. The slightest disturbance of those conditions suffices to prevent the union of the material elements, or, at least, to prevent the regular arrangement of the latter which constitutes the crystal. Why should not the same action take place among the organic elements? We preserve for years the seeds of plants and of animals, which are only vivified at a certain temperature and under certain conditions: grains of wheat have been seen to germinate after the lapse of centuries. There is, then, in seeds a latent principle of vitality, which only awaits the concourse of favorable circumstances to develop itself. May not that which takes place under our eyes every day have also taken place at the origin of the globe? Does this view of the formation of living beings brought forth out of chaos by the action of the forces of nature itself detract in any way from the glory of God? So far from doing this, the view of creation thus presented to us is more consonant than any other with our sense of the vastness of His power exerting its sway over all the worlds of infinity through the action of universal laws. This theory, it is true, does not solve the problem of the origin of the vital elements, but nature has mysteries which it is as yet impossible for us to explain.
46. Do any living beings come into existence spontaneously at the present day?
“Yes; but the primal germs of these already existed in a latent state. You are constantly witnesses of this phenomenon. Do not the tissues of the human body and of animals contain the germs of a multitude of parasites that only await for their development the occurrence of the putrid fermentation necessary to their life? Each of you contains a slumbering world of microscopic beings in process of creation.”
47. Was the human species among the organic elements contained in the terrestrial globe?
“Yes; and it made its appearance at the time appointed by the Creator. Hence the statement that man was ‘formed out of the dust of the ground.’”
48. Can we ascertain the epoch of the appearance of man and of the other living beings on the earth?
“No; all your calculations are chimerical.”
49. If the germs of the human race were among the organic elements of the globe, why are human beings not produced spontaneously at the present day, as they were at the time of its origin?
“The first beginning of things is hidden from us, nevertheless, it may be asserted that the earliest progenitors of the human race, when once brought into existence, absorbed in themselves the elements necessary to their formation in order to transmit those elements according to the laws of reproduction. The same may be said in regard to all the different species of living beings.”
Peopling of the Earth - Adam
50. Did the human race begin with one man only?
“No; he whom you call Adam was neither the first nor the only man who peopled the earth.”
51. Is it possible to know at what period Adam lived?
“About the period which you assign to him, that is to say, about 4000 years before Christ.”
The man of whom, under the name of Adam, tradition has preserved the memory, was one of those who, in some one of the countries of the globe, survived one of the great cataclysms which at various epochs have changed its surface, and who became the founder of one of the races that people the earth at the present day. The laws of nature render it impossible that the amount of progress which we know to have been accomplished by the human race of our planet long before the time of Christ could have been accomplished so rapidly as must have been the case if it had only been in existence upon the globe since the period assigned as the date of Adam. The opinion most consonant with reason is that which regards the story of Adam as a myth, or as an allegory personifying the earliest ages of the world Diversity of Human Races.
Diversity of human races
52. What is the cause of the physical and moral differences that distinguish the various races of men upon the earth?
“Climate, modes of life, and social habits. The same differences would be produced in the case of two children of the same mother, if brought up far from one another, and surrounded by different influences and conditions; for the children thus diversely brought up would present no moral resemblance to each other.”
53. Did the human race come into existence on various points of the globe?
“Yes, and at various epochs; and this is one of the causes of the diversity of human races. The people of the primitive periods, being dispersed abroad in different climates, and forming alliances with those of other countries than their own, gave rise perpetually to new types of humanity.”
—Do these differences constitute distinct species?
“Certainly not. All of them constitute but a single family. Do the differences between the varieties of the same fruit prevent their all belonging to the same species.”
54. If the human species do not all proceed from the same progenitor, should they, on that account, cease to regard one another as brothers?
“All men are brothers in virtue of their common relation to the Creator, because they are animated by the same spirit, and tend towards the same goal. The human mind is always prone to attach too literal a meaning to statements which are necessarily imperfect and incomplete.”
Plurality of Worlds
55. Are all the globes that revolve in space inhabited?
“Yes; and the people of the earth are far from being, as you suppose, the first in intelligence, goodness, and general development. There are many men having a high opinion of themselves who even imagine that your little globe alone, of all the countless myriads of globes around you, has the privilege of being inhabited by reasoning beings. They fancy that God has created the universe only for them. Insensate vanity!”
God has peopled the globes of the universe with living beings, all of whom concur in working out the aims of His providence. To believe that the presence of living beings is confined to the one point of the universe inhabited by us is to cast a doubt on the wisdom of God, who has made nothing in vain, and who must therefore have assigned to all the other globes of the universe a destination more important than that of gratifying our eyes with the spectacle of a starry night. Moreover, there is nothing in the position, size, or physical constitution of the earth to warrant the supposition that it alone, of the countless myriads of globes disseminated throughout the infinity of space, has the privilege of being inhabited.
56. Is the physical constitution of all globes the same?
“No; they do not at all resemble one another.”
57. The physical constitution of the various worlds not being the same for all does it follow that the beings who inhabit them have different organizations?
“Undoubtedly it does; just as, in your world, fishes are organized for living in the water, and birds for living in the air.”
58. Are the planets furthest removed from the sun stinted in light and heat, the sun only appearing to them of the size of one of the fixed stars?
“Do you suppose that there are no other sources of light and heat than the sun? And do you count for nothing the action of electricity which, in certain worlds, plays a very much more important part than in your earth? Besides, how do you know that the beings of those worlds see in the same manner as you do, and with the aid of organs such as yours?”
The conditions of existence for the beings that inhabit the various worlds must be supposed to be appropriate to the sphere in which they are destined to live. If we had never seen fishes, we should be at a loss to understand how any living beings could exist in the sea. So in regard to all the other worlds, which doubtless contain elements that are unknown to us. In our own earth, are not the long polar nights illumined by the electrical displays of the aurora borealis? Is it impossible that. In certain worlds, electricity may be more abundant than in ours, and may sub serve, in its general economy, various important uses not imaginable by us? And may not those worlds contain in themselves the sources of the heat and light required by their inhabitants?
The Biblical Account of the Creation
59. The different nations of the earth have formed to themselves widely divergent ideas of the creation; ideas always in harmony with their degree of scientific advancement. Reason and science concur in admitting the fantastic character of certain theories. The explanation of the subject now given through spirit communication is confirmatory of the opinion which has long been adopted by the most enlightened exponents of modern science.
This explanation will no doubt be objected to, on the ground that it is in contradiction with the statements of the Bible; but a careful examination of those statements shows us that this contradiction is more apparent than real, and that it results from the interpretation which has been given to expressions whose meaning is allegorical rather than historical.
The question of the personality of Adam, regarded as the first man, and sole progenitor of the human race, is not the only one in regard to which the religious convictions of the world have necessarily undergone modification. The hypothesis of the rotation of the earth round the sun appeared, at one time, to be in such utter opposition to the letter of the Bible, that every species of persecution was directed against it, and against those who advocated it. Yet the earth continued to move on in its orbit in defiance of anathemas; and no one, at the present day, could contest the fact of its movement without doing violence to his own powers of reasoning.
The Bible also tells us that the world was created in six days, and fixes the epoch of this creation at about 4000 years before the Christian era. Previously to that period the earth did not exist. At that period it was produced out of nothing. Such is the formal declaration of the sacred text, yet science, positive, inexorable steps in with proof to the contrary. The history of the formation of the globe is written in indestructible characters in the worlds of fossils, proving beyond the possibility of denial that the six days of the creation are successive periods, each of which may have been of millions of ages. This is not a mere matter of statement or of opinion. It is a fact as incontestably certain as is the motion of the earth, and one that theology itself can no longer refuse to admit, although this admission furnishes another example of the errors into which we are led by attributing literal truth to language which is often of a figurative nature. Are we therefore to conclude that the Bible is a mere tissue of errors? No; but we must admit that men have erred in their method of interpreting it.
Geology, in its study of the archives written in the structure of the globe itself, has ascertained the order of succession in which the different species of living beings have appeared on its surface, and this order is found to be in accordance with the sequence indicated in the book of Genesis, with this difference, namely, that the earth, instead of issuing miraculously from the hand of God in the course of a few days, accomplished its formation under the impulsion of the Divine will, but according to the laws and through the action of the forces of nature, in the course of periods incalculable by us. Does God appear less great and less powerful for having accomplished the work of creation through the action of forces, and according to laws, of His own ordaining? And is the result of the creative energy less sublime for not having been accomplished instantaneously? Evidently not; and puerile indeed must be the mind that does not recognize the grandeur of the Almighty Power implied in this evolution of the worlds of the universe through the action of eternal laws. Science, so far from diminishing the glory of the Divine action, displays that action under an aspect still more sublime, and more consonant with our intuitive sense of the power and majesty of God, by showing that it has been accomplished without derogation from the laws which are the expression of the Divine will in the realm of nature.
Modern science, in accordance with the Mosaic record, proves that man was the last in the order of creation of living beings. But Moses puts the universal deluge at the year of the world 1654, while geology seems to show that the great diluvian cataclysm occurred before the appearance of man, because, up to the present time, the primitive strata contain no traces of his presence, or of that of the animals contemporaneous with him. But this point is far from being decided. Various recent discoveries suggest the possibility of our being destined to ascertain that the antiquity of the human race is much greater than has been hitherto supposed; and should this greater antiquity become a matter of certainty, it would prove that the letter of the Bible, in regard to the date assigned by it to the creation of man, as in regard to so many other matters, can only be understood in an allegorical sense. That the geological deluge is not that of Noah is evident from the lapse of time required for the formation of the fossiliferous strata; and, if traces should eventually be discovered of the existence of the human race before the geological deluge, it would be evident either that Adam was not the first man, or that his creation dates back from a period indefinitely remote. There is no arguing against fact; and the antiquity of the human race, if proved by geological discovery, would have to be admitted, just as has been done in regard to the movement of the earth and the six days of the creation.
The existence of the human race before the geological deluge, it may be objected, is still doubtful. But the same objection cannot be urged against the following considerations: - Admitting that man first appeared upon the earth 4000 years before Christ, if the whole of the human race, with the exception of a single family, were destroyed 1650 years afterwards, it follows that the peopling of the earth dates only from the time of Noah, that is to say, only 2500 years before Christ. But when the Hebrews emigrated to Egypt in the eighteenth century before Christ, they found that country densely populated, and already in possession of an advanced civilization. History also shows that, at the same period, India and various other countries were equally populous and flourishing, to say nothing of the chronological tables of other nations, which claim to go back to periods yet more remote. We must, therefore, suppose that, from the twenty-fourth to the eighteenth century before Christ, that is to say, in the space of 600 years-the posterity of a single individual was able to people all the immense countries which had then been discovered, not to speak of those which were then unknown, but which we have no reason to conclude were destitute of inhabitants; and we must suppose, still further, that the human race, during this brief period, was able to raise itself from the crass ignorance of the primitive savage state to the highest degree of intellectual development-suppositions utterly irreconcilable with anthropological laws.
The diversity of the various human races confirms this view of the subject. Climate and modes of life undoubtedly modify the physical characteristics of mankind, but we know the extent to which these modifications can be carried, and physiological examination conclusively proves that there are between the different races of men constitutional differences too profound to have been produced merely by differences of climate. The crossing of races produces intermediary types; it tends to efface the extremes of characteristic peculiarities; but it does not produce these peculiarities, and, therefore, creates only new varieties. But the crossing of races presupposes the existence of races distinct from each other; and how is the existence of these to be explained if we attribute their origin to a common stock especially if we restrict the production of these various races to so brief a period? How is it possible to suppose, for example, that the descendants of Noah could have been, in so short a time, transformed into Ethiopians? Such a metamorphosis would be as inadmissible as that of a wolf into a sheep, of a beetle into an elephant, of a bird into a fish. No preconceived opinion can withstand, in the long run, the evidence of opposing facts. But, on the contrary, all difficulty disappears if we assume that man existed at a period anterior to that which has hitherto been commonly assigned to his creation; that Adam commenced, some 6000 years ago, the peopling of a country until then uninhabited; that the deluge of Noah was a local catastrophe, erroneously confounded with the great geological cataclysm; and, finally, if we make due allowance for the allegorical form of expression characteristic of the Oriental style, and common to the sacred books of every people.
It is unwise to insist upon a literal interpretation of figurative statements of which the inaccuracy may, at any moment, be rendered evident by the progress of scientific discovery; but the fundamental propositions of religion, so far from having anything to fear from the discoveries of science, are strengthened and ennobled by being brought into harmony with those discoveries. And it is only when the religious sentiment shall have been enlightened by its union with scientific truth that religious belief, thus rendered invulnerable to the attacks of skepticism, will take the place of skepticism in the minds and hearts of men.
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published June 1st 2010
Size: 5.5 x 8.5" 140 x 216 mm