Allan Kardec (Denizard-Hyppolyte-Leon Rivail) might be called the father of reincarnation in the western hemisphere since it was his book, The Spirits’ Book, which popularized the doctrine of reincarnation in the popular mind. It must also be admitted that he was not the disinterested academic that he and his followers claimed him to be.
First, the origins of the book may not be exactly as Kardec’s admirers have recorded. It is likely that instead of bringing questions to the spirits, Kardec actually took information that had previously been channeled by a famous medium and then correlated it in the form of questions and answers before publishing them.
Second, Kardec’ main somnambulist was Celina Japhet. She was a trance medium who entered her trances by means of hypnosis. According to a Biographic entry from Fodor’s Encyclopedia of Psychic Science (published in 1933):
The story of Rivail’s first investigations into spirit manifestations is somewhat obscure. Le Livre des Esprits (The Spirits’ Book), which expounded a new theory of human life and destiny, was published in 1856. According to an article by Alexander Aksakof in The Spiritualist [magazine] in 1875 the book is based on trance communications received through Mlle. Celina Bequet, a professional somnambulist who, for family reasons, took the name of Celina Japhet and, controlled by [her three spirit guides], her grandfather, M. Hahnemann and Dr. Franz Mesmer, gave under this name medical advice. Her mesmerist [hypnotist], M. Roustan, believed in the plurality of existences [i.e. reincarnation]. This may or may not have had an influence.
The fact is that in her automatic scripts the spirits communicated the doctrine of reincarnation. In 1856 Rivail was introduced to the circle by Victorien Sardou. He was entrusted with the scripts, correlated the material by a number of questions and published it without mentioning the name of the medium. It is difficult to say how far Aksakof’s informations cover the truth. He obtained them in the course of a personal interview with Celina Japhet in Paris. It was she who revealed that the name Allan was borne in a previous incarnation by Rivail. Kardec was revealed by Rose, another medium by whose help he formed a circle of his own.
The term “somnambulist” literally means “sleep walker”, but was taken at the time to mean a trance medium. Franz Mesmer was one of the spirits who communicated through Celina Japhet. Mesmer was, in life, the originator of the process that came to be known as “mesmerism”. Mesmerism is popularly known today as hypnotism, and in fact, the medium was brought into her trances by a hypnotist who himself believed in reincarnation. It is possible that Rivail was not even present during the sessions which produced the transcripts that eventually became the Spirits’ Book. After Celina Japhet’s revelation, Rivail took the pen name “Alan Kardec” by which he has been popularly known ever since.
This leads us into the second question: Was the information received by the medium truly from the mind of disembodied spirits, or was it unconsciously produced by a hypnotist with a preexisting belief in reincarnation and telepathically transmitted to the medium? It is virtually impossible to rule out the possibility of unconscious telepathy on the part of the sitter during a reading, or, in this case, on the part of the hypnotist.
Lastly, far from being a disinterested academic, Rivail became a dogmatic defender of the ideas presented in his popular books. Fodor’s Encyclopedia of Psychic Science continues:
“In 1857 [The Spirits’ Book] was reissued in a revised form and later attained to more than twenty editions. It has become the recognized textbook of spiritistic philosophy in France. This philosophy is distinct from spiritualism as it is built on the main tenet that spiritual progress is effected by a series of compulsory reincarnations. Allan Kardec became so dogmatic on this point that he always disparaged physical mediumship, and any objective phenomena which did not bear out his doctrine. [For example], Allan Kardec ignored the important mediumship of D. D. Home after he declared himself against reincarnation. He [also] encouraged automatic-writing [to avoid] the danger of contradiction, owing to the psychological influence of preconceived ideas. As a consequence experimental psychic research remained twenty years behind in France.”
In short, Rivail (Alan Kardec) essentially founded the religion of Spiritism, and spent the remainder of his life enlarging and defending it. In the process, he introduced the doctrine of reincarnation into modern spiritualism. Unfortunately, he also disparaged further scientific exploration of psychic and spiritual matters. In a way, in addition to being the Carl Sagan of his day, he was also the L. Ron Hubbard of his day. (L. Ron Hubbard was the science fiction author who invented Scientology, which is a cult founded upon one of his own science fiction novels.)