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The History of Spiritism

Spiritists, love one another; this is the first teaching. Educate yourselves; this is the second.
- Spirit of Truth - The Gospel According to Spiritism

The Fox Sisters

Historically, Spiritism appeared because of the phenomena involved in the moving of objects that had been witnessed in numerous countries throughout Europe, America, and other parts of the world.

The high point of these events was a series of manifestations that occurred in Hydesville, Wayne County, New York, in the United States of America. The Fox family lived there with two of their three daughters, and had lived at the house since 1847.

On the night of March 28, 1848, annoying knocks were heard from the wooden walls in John Fox’s large cabin and disturbed the family’s sleep. All members of the family were Methodists. The girls, nine-year-old Katherine (Katie or Kate), and twelve-year-old Margaret ran to their parents' bedroom, frightened by the loud knocks coming from the walls and ceiling in their room. The knocks or "raps" continued that night. Later the manifestations included the sound of chairs being dragged and as time went on, the phenomena became more and more complex. Everything shook, objects moved, and it was like an explosion of loud sounds.

For three consecutive nights up to March 31 of that year, the phenomena were repeated intensely; stopping the family from getting any sleep. Mr. Fox searched inside and outside the house several times but nothing could be found to explain the occurrences.

One day, little Kate who was already accustomed to the noise started to imitate the knocks by drumming on a piece of furniture with her fingers while talking to the side of the house from which the knocks emanated more often: "Let’s go Old Splitfoot, do what I do," she said.

Immediately, the "stranger's" knocks were heard in equal numbers and stopped when the girl stopped.

Margaret playfully said: “Now, do the same as me; count one, two, three, four," and followed this with small knocks with her fingers. Her requests were satisfied completely to everyone’s astonishment and fear.”

The Fox girls The Fox girls, who, as previously mentioned, were Protestants of the Methodist persuasion, assumed they were dealing with Satan and called him Mr.Splitfoot, which was a reference to the split hooves of a goat. The Fox family was alarmed; the neighbors and everyone in the community were in an uproar, talking excitedly about the events.

Mr. Duesler, a family friend, thought of using the alphabet to translate the knocks and understand what the invisible entity was saying. The invisible knocker told them his story. His name was Charles Rosma; he was a traveling salesman who had stayed at the house as a guest of the Bell couple. He was murdered in the house and his merchandise and money had been stolen. He was buried in the basement. They searched the place he indicated and there they found boards, tar, whitewash, hair, bones, utensils, etc.

Lucretia Pulver Lucretia Pulver, who worked as a maid for the Bells, revealed that she had seen the salesman and described him. She recounted the story about how he arrived at the house and also mentioned that he had disappeared mysteriously. Once, when she was going down to the cellar, her foot went into a hole. When she told her boss about it he said that it must have been the rats and quickly made repairs. She had seen objects from the salesman’s bag in her boss’ hands.

At the time, several commissions were formed to study the strange phenomena and expose the sisters as swindlers. It was noticed that the phenomena happened only in the girls' presence; consequently, they determined that they were mediums. Not one of the commissions was able to find them fraudulent. The facts were absolutely true, in spite of the fact that they had submitted the girls to the most rigorous and severe exams, sometimes coming close to brutality.

The Fox sisters were under considerable pressure. The Church excommunicated them for making covenants with the devil. They were called liars and were threatened with bodily harm several times.

In 1888, at the 40th anniversary celebration of the Hydesville phenomena, Cardinal Manning deceived Margaret Fox with promises of financial gain and made her report to the New York Herald that the phenomena were fraudulent. However, the following year she regretted her lack of honesty towards the spiritualist movement and gathered a large crowd at a music saloon in New York, where she recanted her previous statements. At that time, she not only affirmed that the Hydesville phenomena had been real but she also provoked another series of physical effects phenomena in the crowded room.

On May 20, 1889, On May 20, 1889, The Light and the American New Press newspapers printed her retraction.

In his book History of Spiritualism, Arthur Conan Doyle, wrote that fifty-six years later it was discovered that somebody had been buried in the wine cellar at the Fox house. When the walls came down, children who were playing in the area found the skeleton. To be safe the Bells had walled the body in the wine cellar where they had killed him.

On November 23, 1904, the Boston Journal announced that the skeleton of a man who had possibly produced the knocks that the Fox sisters heard had been found. Therefore, they were exonerated beyond any doubt with respect to their honesty during the discovery of the communications with the spirit.

Turning Tables

At the beginning of 1853 a game that caught the attention of the nobility in the Parisian society appeared in France.

French people who were used to parlor parties started entertaining themselves with a game called “turning or talking table”.

They were small round tables about three feet in diameter; people would sit around them and place their hands on top. Instantly the tables would start to move and jump without help from anyone present.

It looked like a magnetic phenomenon; in other words, a product of some type of mental power emanating from those who were predisposed to play. The phenomenon then grew to larger proportions and spread to other European countries and America as well. A method for talking to the tables was devised through knocks on the floor produced by the participant’s feet, a code of signals, where one knock meant ‘no’, and two knocks meant ‘yes’.

Generally speaking the questions were trivial and provided no illumination as to what was happening. It was then that a lady by the name of Delphine de Girardin developed a method of contact that consisted of a table that moved around its axis like roulette wheel.

Words, numbers and the terms ‘yes’ and ‘no’ were placed on top of the table in a circle inside the circle was a needle or a metal arrow and the people in attendance would place their hands on the table’s edge The table would move, then stop moving, and the word toward which the metal arrow pointed would be noted. In this manner the invisible power that caused the table to turn could form a sentence.

As the questions were asked, it was found that spirits inhabiting the spiritual world produced the phenomena. Yet, in this surprising discovery, no one saw any usefulness for the phenomena. What was important was, quite simply, the show, and the cause of the phenomena, which produced the show, did not matter.

Allan Kardec the codifier, a man with a mission

Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail was a French teacher of Mathematics, Language, Physics, Astronomy and Physiology and a researcher of magnetism. Rivail was born on October 3, 1804 in the city of Lyon, to a Catholic family. Rivail was a disciple of Pestalozzi, the father of modern pedagogy (teaching), and married to Amélie Gabrielle Boudet.

During his sojourn in Switzerland, while attending the Pestalozzi Institute, Kardec had lived with Calvinist and Lutheran teachers and had learned from Pestalozzi that true religion was nothing more than morality.

A discerning man, Rivail was chosen for a high mission, as the codifier of Spiritism, exactly because of the nobility of his feelings and for his elevated character, both of which were connected to a solid intelligence. He would not let himself be taken by fads and as a student of human magnetism he believed that all of the phenomena produced by the spiritualist movement could be connected to the people who were involved and not to any possible spirit intervention.

In 1855, Rivail was invited by a friend to see closely view certain inexplicable manifestations that were taking over a number of living rooms in the French capital. He had heard about the talking tables and wanted to understand what was happening.

The teacher, Rivail, then participated in a few sessions and was intrigued. He noticed that many of the answers given by those inanimate objects were beyond the cultural and social knowledge of the people taking part in the "spectacle". A piece of furniture could not move by itself, there had to be some invisible intelligence moving them and answering the questions.

Rivail witnessed manifestations of some who attested to be the spirits of people who had lived on earth. “I noticed in those apparent trivialities, in the pastime that was made of the phenomena, that something was serious, as a revelation of new laws which I started to study.

I understood the seriousness of the investigation I was about to undertake. I saw in those phenomena the key to obscure and controversial problems of humanity’s past and future, solutions I had been looking for my entire life. I t was necessary then to conduct myself with the greatest circumspection and not carelessly; I should be positive and not idealist, so as to not be deceived. (Posthumous Work)

The spirits told him that he was part of a group of superior spirits that came to human beings to fulfill Jesus' promise, in The Gospel of John 14:15-26: “And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Consoler to be with you forever – The Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him for he lives with you and will be in you. But the Consoler, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things and will remind you of all things I have said to you.”

Rivail learned from the Spirit of Truth that in one of his previous lives he had been a Druid priest by the name of Allan Kardec. That was when he decided to adopt this pseudonym during the codification of the new Doctrine, which would later become known as Spiritist Doctrine or Spiritism. He proceeded in this way so that when people learned about the new principles they would accept them not merely because it was a well known educator who was publishing them, but because, after coming into contact with the Good Word, they would discover its rationality and objective methodology, independent of who was publishing or supporting it.

The Codification

From his first contact with the spirits in 1855, Kardec spent 14 years organizing Spiritism, which he would finish on March 31, 1869, the day he passed away due to an aneurism.

At first, in order to receive the answers from the spirits about the reasons for the communications and the new teachings, Kardec used a new mechanism called a basket-spinning top; it was a basket with a pencil in the center. The mediums, who were individuals able to perceive the influence of the spirits, would place their hands around the edges and, through their involuntary movements the sentences would be formed. Julie and Caroline Baudin, two adolescents of 14 and 16 years of age respectively, were the mediums Kardec used most often in the beginning.

With time the basket-spinning top became less useful and the mediums’ hands took its place, a phenomenon known as psychography. All the questions Kardec asked the spirits, and their answers, were reviewed and analyzed several times; this was done to follow the necessary guidelines for common sense and rationality. The same questions posed to spirits through French mediums were also submitted to other mediums in several parts of Europe and America.1 This was done so that the statements the spirits made carried the needed credibility. The mediums were not in contact with each other, only with Kardec.

As a result, it was understood that if the answers were the same they had come from the same spirit source. Let us highlight that whenever the questions and answers were of moral significance they were compared to the Gospel of Jesus, which is considered by followers of Spiritism to be the absolute model of good conduct. In the same manner, the answers on scientific and philosophical matters wore the mark of objectivity and reason.

This rigid control of everything that came from the spirit world came to be known as “Universal Control: The Ultimate Authority” (see The Gospel, According to Spiritism, Introduction, Item 2). From this, it was decided that in Spiritism, any information coming from the spiritual plane has to be validated by several sources, through several mediums, who have no contact with each other. Any spirit communication that does not follow this guideline is considered to be the personal opinion of the communicating spirit regardless of how well-known that spirit may be.

After a complete outline was coherently developed, Allan Kardec prepared the publication of the five volumes that comprise the Basic Code of the Spiritist Doctrine, which began in 1857 with the release of The Spirits’ Book. These books contain Spiritism’s whole theory and practice, the basic principles, and the teachings from the spirits about the spiritual world and its continuous influence over the material world.

In 1858, during the code’s development Kardec started publishing a monthly magazine called The Spiritist Magazine. In it, he commented on news, as well as mediumistic phenomena, and informed the followers of the new Doctrine about its growth and dissemination. Several times the magazine served as a forum for doctrinal debates, among partisans and opponents of Spiritism. The Spiritist Magazine was the seed, or source of development, for the doctrinal press.

In the same year, Kardec founded the Society for Spiritist Studies of Paris. The institution was legally registered and became the Spiritist Central Society, a place to study and encourage new groups. Allan Kardec passed away on March 31, 1869 at age 65, victim of an aneurism. His persistence and constant study were essential for the expansion of the Spiritist movement and the organization of the teachings of the Spirit of Truth.

Summary of the Basic Books of Spiritism

The Spirits’ Book

Published on April 18th, 1857, it is the main book of Spiritism. It can be considered Spiritism’s backbone because it supports all other doctrinal books. It is divided into four parts:

  • The First Cause
  • The Spirit World
  • Ethical Laws
  • Hopes and Solace

 It contains over a thousand questions that Kardec asked the superior spirits who were responsible for bringing Spiritism to humanity. “What is God”, “Where do we come from?”

“Where are we going?” “What are we doing on earth?” These are some of the questions answered by the Spirit of Truth’s group.

The Medium’s Book

It was published on January 15, 1861. It contains the benefits and dangers of mediumship, i.e., it is about the channel that connects incarnated people to the spiritual world. It shows that although all human beings have this ability there are those who have it in a broader sense.

Kardec and the superior spirits discuss how this subtle faculty allows a person to contact the spirits without being harmed by malicious entities and losing control of mediumship.

The Gospel According to Spiritism

Published on April 15, 1864, this book can be understood as the moral part of Spiritism. In this book Kardec and superior spirits comment in an easily understood language, upon the main passages of Jesus’ life. They explain his parables and show the grandiosity of the Master’s teachings and also give important advice about our daily conducts as we face life’s difficulties and doubts.

Heaven and Hell

Kardec published this book on August 1, 1865. Through invocation of spirits from all social classes, beliefs, and levels of development he describes their arrival in, and experience of, life in the spirit world after death. Former royalty, farmers, religious people, assassins, ignorant and intellectual people, these are but a few of those who came back to tell about what they encountered in the world of spirits after the terrestrial journey, and how they envisioned their future lives.


In this book, published on January 6,1868, Kardec explains the Biblical Genesis, and how the universe was formed, demonstrating its rationality when compared to scientific knowledge, without the allegories of the time when it was written. Miracles are explained by the laws of nature as products of alterations in the energy that surround us. Finally, Kardec causes religion and science to stand side by side, thereby strengthening the faith of those who believe in God.