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Spiritism was founded by Allan Kardec in France in the middle of the 19th century, influenced by Franz Mesmer, the Fox sisters and the popularity of table-turning séances in his time. He did not claim that his doctrine was entirely new, but conceded that it was based on notions known to mankind since the greatest antiquity.

Contents

Foundation

With his humanistic background, once he was convinced of the spiritual explanation for the phenomena that he investigated between 1855 and 1856, Kardec began looking for a way to turn the survival of the human soul (and communication with it) into something useful for humankind, in the social and ethical fields. Moreover, he thought that religions were becoming unable to lead men to effective moral improvements, due to their failure as human institutions. Science, concomitantly, grew wider than ever, bringing numerous direct benefits to man. Both factors together contributed to an increasing disbelief in human spirituality at all levels of European societies. Kardec saw in it an undesirable social tendency that should be reverted by a new paradigm for understanding reality. Its main characteristics would be:

  • Providing access to knowledge for all people, instead of the "Hermetic" way philosophical and scientific knowledge had been produced;
  • Human relationship with the Spiritual without any institutional mediation. A natural spirituality would be enough and more appropriate for human realisation.

International influence

After the death of Allan Kardec Spiritism continued to spread and was internationally famous. Many well educated people from Europe and the United States embraced Spiritism as a logical explanation of reality, including themes related to transcendence, such as God and afterlife. Thousands of Spiritist centres were founded throughout Europe, North America and, especially, Brazil and the Spiritist principles were so much disseminated in some countries that Spiritism was considered for inclusion in regular school and college programmes in Europe.

Declining

This situation continued until the First World War, which would be the beginning of the end of the fame of Spiritism. Later, with the ascension of totalitarian regimes in many European nations, a degree of repression took hold across the whole continent regarding Spiritisim (and many other philosophical and political movements).

Among the causes of this loss of popularity in the beginning of the 1900's, are a series of factors:

  • reaction of traditional religions
  • death of famous converts, like William Crookes, Arthur Conan Doyle and Camille Flammarion
  • development of scientific explanations for spiritual phenomena which were claimed by Spiritism (like the explanation of obsession by Psychoanalysis)
  • some scientists are still skeptical about important scientific believes of the doctrine which doesn't use the same nomenclatures ( such as electricity is not a "fluid", "animal magnetism" seems not exist, etc.)

However the appearance of new leading personalities promoting the Spiritist doctrine like, Francisco "Chico" Candido Xavier, Waldo Vieira, Divaldo Pereira Franco, amongst many others in Brazil, has been reviving ever since the interest in the afterlife communication, moral, charity and self improvement not only in that country but in many other neighbouring countries, Africa, North America, Europe and Asia.

Survival of Spiritism

Part of the problems faced by Spiritism were shared by the Internationalist movements, and probably due to this. Besides spiritists, esperantists, socialists, and others were also the target of repression by fascist regimes. Repression to Spiritism was particularly strong in Italy and Portugal.

In South America, on the other hand, none of the above factors was enough to weaken the spreading of the doctrine. catholicism was losing popular support, the government did not oppose Spiritism, most people were not aware of scientific discoveries and the religion had not spread only among the upper classes. Thanks to the works of a few dedicated preachers it managed to lay solid foundations which allowed it survive as an important movement still today.

Such relocation occurred most successfully in Brazil, where more than 4 million people declare themselves "Kardecist Spiritists", according to the last IBGE census data, making Brazil the largest Spiritist country in the world.

Survival did not mean, however, remaining entirely faithful to the original practice. Spiritism has since changed into a considerably more religious doctrine there.

Spiritism has influenced Brazilian syncretisms like Umbanda, Christian Rationalism, Union of the Vegetal and Valley of Dawn, all of them often claiming the name formally or informally.

Relationship with traditional religions

Mediumship and other phenomena studied by Spiritism were not "recent". They had manifested themselves in man's ancient religions and are closely related to Shamanism. Most other religions also contain them to some degree. The Catholic veneration of the Saints, for instance, is likened to the veneration of the Enlightened Spirits in Spiritism and both are related to ancestor worship, which is found all over the world, being present in religions like Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism and African tribal religions.

In Ancient Greece it was believed that the dead inhabited Hades and that it was possible to reach them, either by mediumship or by a type of astral projection. Ulysses and Orpheus are two characters who went to the Hades eventually. In the Iliad, Achilles and Ulysses also used a bloody sacrifice to summon the souls of the dead.

The Romans were famously afraid of ghosts and demons and their superstitions formed the bases for most of European witchcraft and sorcery during the Middle Age, added with significant Germanic elements. Spiritists believe that many stories told in Greek and Roman mythology are better explained by the intervention of Spirits.

Spiritist phenomena were also present in other places as well. The ban on the evocation of spirits found in the Bible is, for instance, solid evidence that it was extensively practiced among the israelites and the manifestation of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost is explained by Spiritism as a mass manifestation of mediumship. The life of Jesus is moreover filled with circumstances that fit well with the doctrine.

In the Middle Ages it was believed that the dead could eventually come back and haunt persons or places (this being the origin of the legends of ghosts and haunted houses). However, such phenomena were seen as diabolic in nature and the Catholic Church would eventually try to enforce a strict control over them, quoting the Deuteronomy ban. People displayind any signs of mediumship were lynched or executed by the Inquisition, especially during the Witch Hunt crazes.

By the time of William Shakespeare popular belief in ghosts was widespread in Britain, and he used them as plot devices in several of his works, such as Hamlet, Julius Caesar (play) and Macbeth and a lot of other such tales flourished then.

Spiritism and Shamanism

Asian Shamans have claimed to have fully accomplished the ability to communicate with the dead and the gods and served as intermediates between them and the living people. American Native medicine men have also claimed the same ability. However, Kardec either was not fully aware of these religions or merely disregarded them as unimportant (a product of his time, he was strictly eurocentric to the point of not giving attention to Hinduism, a vastly more ancient religion that also features a prominent role for reincarnation).

Spiritism and Christianity

Christianity has traditionally been critical of Spiritism, mostly because Mosaic Law clearly forbade the Jewish people all forms of communication with the dead (Deut. 18: 10-14). Some Christians hold that the supposed spirits of the dead are actually fallen angels, while others claim that the clear rendering of scripture teaches they are demons (while some equate demons with fallen angels).

Most of the Christian opposition to Spiritism is found among Protestant Christians, who believe salvation is a free gift of God, which we are unworthy of. Contrary to this, Spiritism states that all spirits will eventually attain full illumination. Christian Fundamentalists also reject spiritism following the Mosaic Law on the subject of the dead. Reincarnation is also a subject for further criticism among many Christian denominations, since several passages in the New Testament seems incompatible with it (most notably Hb. 9:27).

The Catholic Church clearly forbids its members to take part in mediunic sessions, or any type of reunion concerning the evocation or the communication of spirits. Most religions have a similar position; however, depending on the country, there seems to be more tolerance. This is especially observable in Brazil.

Syncretic Religions

Kardec's Spiritism and Anglo-American Spiritualism were actually more or less the same thing and existed simultaneously for a long time, each aware of the other and often very close. They were both middle to upper-class phenomena, related to anti-clericalism and secularism and may be seen as an intermediate step for those who wished to relinquish their relationships with religions they saw as wikt:old-fashioned or wikt:corrupt but did not want to become atheists. It waned in popularity as socialism found more acceptance and was later banned in most of Europe by Fascism.

The doctrine would, however, find elsewhere safe ground to develop. In Brazil, as early as 1900 hundreds of Spiritist centres were to be found throughout the country. Spiritism reached its peak of popularity in the 1970s but lost it in the 1990s, being now apparently about to recover.

Afro-Brazilian religions, which were banned in Brazil until 1950, quickly noticed Spiritism and claimed the name for themselves, as a disguise, as Spiritism was a "white man's" religion that was tolerated, while Candomblé, Umbanda, Quimbanda and others were not. Due to this misuse of the term, there persists a confusion regarding the religion, which is often resolved by referring to Spiritism as "Kardecism" or "Kardecist Spiritism". And yet the terms "Kardecist" or "Kardecism" should not be used by those who really understand the difference and know about the Spiritist doctrine.

Although the centres are autonomous, they are assembled in unions that are assembled in federations that are linked to the "Conselho Federativo Nacional" (national federate council) in Brasília -Brazil. The "Conselho Federativo Nacional" is presided by the "Brazilian Spiritist Federation" www.febnet.org.br (site in Brazilian Portuguese)

See also

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