Recap of previous page: After the birth of Spiritualism in 1848, Millions of people began consulting the spirits through Ouija boards, table tipping, and mediums.
Thousands of spirits were consulted, and these in turn gave advice to many and sundry people. Although reincarnation was, and remains a basic component of Hinduism, Buddhism and other eastern religions, it seems to have been a subject that the spirits in the early nineteenth century never really discussed with their western audience. Neither Swedenborg nor any of his spirit friends believed in reincarnation. However, things began to change after 1857 with the publication of The Spirits’ Book by a famous French educator named Denizard-Hyppolyte-Leon Rivail, who wrote under the pen name Allan Kardec. He was the Carl Sagan of his day.
Rivail was descended from generations of lawyers and magistrates. He was a born educator. He gave immensely successful lectures on astronomy chemistry, physics and anatomy and became a learned member of all the scientific societies. In 1855, when he was fifty years old, he reluctantly attended a séance where he was astonished to see tables dancing and moving around the room. There was no doubt in his mind that the table did move independently without input from the people surrounding it because in some instances, the participants were standing with only their fingertips lightly touching the table top. By means of tapping a table leg on the floor while responding to the alphabet spoken by one of the participants, the table could answer questions. Rivail was bemused, but not convinced. It had been seven years since the manifestations at the Fox residence in Hydesville New York, and the spiritualist craze was in full blossom. People all over the western hemisphere were having séances and table tipping parties. During this period, fraudulent mediums were being exposed bilking people out of their life savings, and it was easy to assume that people who believed in spirits were simply caught up in a widespread fad.
Up to that point, Rivail had been a serious skeptic, and was alarmed at the popular fixation on spirits and mediums, but his skepticism had been seriously undermined by his table tipping experience. While attending the table tipping party, he was invited to attend another party at the home of a gentleman who had two daughters who were said to be trance mediums. Rivail didn’t know what to make of trances or mediums. These two were “society” girls and they had a reputation for frivolous behavior. Rivail didn’t expect anything but silly entertainment. At the party, he found what he expected; two rather pretty party girls who could produce automatic writing while in a trance. Ordinarily, their writings were on frivolous subjects as befit their personalities, and so one might assume that they too were deluded simpletons like everyone else who believed in Spirits.
But when the sisters wrote with Rivail present, their writings were of an altogether more serious and esoteric nature. The writings appeared to be well beyond the knowledge and intellectual level of the girls themselves, and more on the intellectual level that Rivail was used to dealing with in academic circles. When the communicator was asked why its replies were so much more profound than anything that had previously been transmitted through the girls, it explained that spirits of a much higher order had come expressly for him so that he could fulfill a religious mission. These spirits said that they would dictate the inner workings of the spiritual universe to Rivail who, in turn, would publicize their message for the betterment of mankind. Thus began a long series of trance sittings with numerous mediums during which Rivail began a quest to unveil the inner workings of the spiritual world.
Rivail is said to have brought to each session a series of questions concerning doctrinal and structural issues about the afterlife. Altogether, there were over a thousand of them and they included questions concerning reincarnation. The spirits answered that reincarnation was an intrinsic property of the higher spheres.
Rivail was now completely won over and wrote a book based on the answers to the questions that he posed to these learned spirits. The Spirits’ Book was an immediate success. Rivail continued to write and to pursue confirmation of the spirits’ revelations. He wrote his books under the pen name of Allan Kardec. This was the name of one of his past-life personalities as revealed to him by two mediums he later employed.
He enlisted a total of ten mediums who did not know or communicate with each other. In the end, he concluded that as a group, the mediums demonstrated unlearned skills such as writing by illiterate mediums, handwriting similar to the alleged communicating personality, and speaking or writing in a language unknown to the medium (xenoglossia and xenographia). The mediums also provided verifiable information unknown to themselves or others present.
The Spirits’ Book and Rivail’s four other books were especially popular in Brazil, where they became integrated into an existing spiritual belief system based partly on Catholicism and partly on voodoo. Spiritism, also called Kardecism, is the name given to this composite belief system, and it is still the most widespread religious belief in Brazil. (Note that Spiritism is not the same as Spiritualism) Today, there are Spiritist societies scattered all over the world. Note that Western spiritualists who believe in reincarnation often call themselves “Spiritists”, which is a term not to be confused with the religion of Spiritism in Brazil.
As the belief in reincarnation spread, those who believed in an invisible spiritual world became split into two competing camps. One camp, the Spiritists, believed in reincarnation, and one, the Spiritualists, denied reincarnation.