Thursday, May 29, 2008

Spiritism, Espiritismo, Alan Kardec and more!


A brief look at this belief system
By John of AllFaith © 5.29.08

A Brazilian questioner living in the US asked a question about the teachings of Alan Kardec and the "espiritismo" or Spiritist movement at my AllExperts site. As a Catholic the questioner was concerned about Catholic attitudes towards this movement and also wanted links to Spiritist groups in the US. The poster requested anonymity. The following is my reply:


I am somewhat familiar with Monsieur Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, who came to be known as Alan Kardec, yes. His contributions to spiritism or espiritismo are legendary.

As I wrote my reply to you I realized that I was going somewhat afield of what you asked. My reason for this was to show how broad and far reaching basic espiritismo is in the United States and elsewhere. Indeed, one of the main areas where its rising acceptance can be seen is within the Secular Humanist Movement. This religion (ie Secular Humanism) has a largely spiritist foundation. Like Alan Kardec, most Secular Humanists do not consider their movement to be a "religion." Unlike Monsieur Kardec's philosophy of spiritism however, it clearly is.

What espiritismo does not have is an established priesthood, creed, ritual requirements etc. When these are added spiritism becomes something "more" than a philosophy; it becomes a religion. The absence of such religious underpinnings makes the understandings and practices of spiritism malleable to many different belief systems and religions, including Secular Humanism.

There are many groups in the US that hold to views similar to and/or based on those of Alan Kardec. Here's a few links that might help you connect with like minded people:

Spiritualist Churches in The United States

National Spiritualist Association of Churches

The Spiritist Group of New York

The Spiritist Society of San Diego

United States Spiritist Council

Through these links you should have no difficulty connecting with Spiritist organizations in the US.

The Roman Catholic Church officially opposes spiritism but since its inception many Catholics have delved deeply into experiential spiritualism in one form or another with or without the sanction of the Vatican. There is indeed a thin line between the spiritualism of many Catholic Saints such as Meister Eckhart, Jullian of Norwich, Saint John of the Cross, etc. and the Spiritism of people like Alan Kardec. What is "bad" or "good" is often in the eyes of the beholder. When it comes to spiritism, its practitioners are known by the fruit they produce. The power tapped by spiritism is like electricity, of itself it is neither good or bad.

As I mentioned above, spiritism is not a religion per se, it is a philosophy that is found within many different religious systems. As Alan Kardec wrote:

"Spiritism is the new science which has come to reveal to mankind, by means of irrefutable proofs, the existence and nature of the spiritual world and its relationship with the physical world." ("Spiritism" - The Gospel According to Spiritism - Ch. I, at pg. 25. HPC Publisher, 1987).

As a movement it has adherents in many countries throughout the world, including Spain, the United States, Japan, Germany, France, England, Argentina, Portugal, etc., but there is no essential espiritismo "church" where adherents are found. Indeed many practitioners are opposed to the word "church" being used to describe spiritist assemblies. Brazil has the largest percentage of practitioners and the greatest number of followers according to many surveys but I dare say one would be hard pressed to find any country where the basic philosophy is not found.

Among the heterogeneous groups in the US that hold/held to a basic spiritist belief system are groups like Swedenborgism and the ecstatic ritualism of religions like Santeria and Voodoo (and the West African Voodun traditions). Spiritism is a primarily philosophical underpinning of countless religions including much of the New Age Movement and is seen in the works of Edgar Cayce, Nostradamus, the Fox Sisters, Matthew Fox, Madame Blavatsky, the Oneida Community, Phineas P. Quimby, Franz Anton Mesmer, the Unity School of Christianity, Christian Science, the Mind Science Movement, and many other teachers and movements. Of course such groups vary greatly as to doctrine and beliefs, but in all of them the principles of spiritism are clearly present.

The devotion to spiritual questioning and awakening that was a key element of the Great Awakenings that took place in the later half of 1800's defined essential spiritism, but as a philosophy it is timeless. Much of our present spiritual eclecticism is based on the movements that were born during this period, including the inspirations of Alan Kardec.

There are five main points of belief among spiritists, but these are not held as doctrines per se and are worded in different ways:

1. There is a God, generally vaguely defined as "The Supreme Intelligence," the "Primary Cause of everything," or the "Greater Power";
2. There are innumerable spirit beings, all of whom are created as simple creatures with the ability to gradually evolve and perfect themselves over the eons;
3. The natural method of this perfection process is transmigration (reincarnation), through which the spirits, like us, face diverse situations, problems and obstacles, and gradually learn how to deal with them. These spirits are neither "angels" nor "demons" as traditionally conceived by the Church;
4. As part of Nature, these spirits can naturally communicate with humans as well as interfere in our lives, this interference can be for good or ill hence mediumship (like séance etc.) are viewed as natural abilities;
5. Many planets/realms in the universe are inhabited and directly influence our earth in various ways including by sending spirit beings here to both help and guide as well as to hinder us.

I hope this helps, ~John of AllFaith

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