In 1804, a very significant event took place. Allan Kardec (given name Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail), founder and one of the most significant proponents of Spiritism, was born in Lyon, France. Raised Catholic, he showed an early interest in science and philosophy that directed his later studies at the Swiss School of Pestalozzi.
Pestalozzi himself became a very influence mentor to the young Kardec, who in turn became more and more zealous about pursuing his studies in the languages (learning German, English, Italian, Spanish, and, of course, French), science, and English studies.
As a mentor, Pestalozzi not only transmitted educational knowledge, but also his personal ideals of social awareness as a tool to share love and serve others selflessly. This approach to pedagogy was later termed “Head, Heart, and Hands,” and it made a deep and lifelong impact on Kardec from the time when he was a pupil of Pestalozzi's. His commitment to education and service continued throughout his life and is woven throughout the principles of Spiritism later outlined in his books and journals.
Kardec first transitioned from student to teacher at the tender age of 14, when at first he tutored his less gifted classmates and later became a teacher and mentor in his own right. He taught classes designed by himself for underprivileged students as he developed his career as an educator, founder of educational facilities, writer, and translator.
During this time, Kardec also continued his personal investigations into teaching models that encouraged free thinking and progressive ideas in education. To this end, he joined and participated in several societies made up of fellow scholars, including The Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry, France's Society of Natural Sciences, and others.
Courses organized and taught by Kardec included lessons in science (chemistry, physics, astronomy), languages, mathematics and anatomy and physiology. While he likely did not realize this at the time, Kardec's influence would lay the groundwork for today's modern educational system throughout Europe, where his influence can still be felt in classrooms today!
In 1832, another very significant event occurred in Allan Kardec's life – he met and married his wife, Amélie Gabrielle Boudet. She was nine years older than her husband, but shared his lively and intelligent mind and interest in matters of free and progressive thought.
She also joined him in founding and running a Technical Institute of learning out of their home, and she participated in sharing his many projects to promote learning and education with underprivileged children who did not have the same access to these tools as he and his wife had enjoyed. Throughout their marriage, they maintained this devoted and tireless partnership in the interests of education.
In 1855, Kardec was included in a small group invited to experience a phenomenon known as the “dancing table” experiment. Some accounts state he was reluctant, others say he was simply intrigued. But that night, as the participants sat around the table in the classical style of the game, hands placed palm-flat over and just above the tabletop surface, the table was observed to “dance” and jump.
This seance-type activity was become more and more popular at the time in france, and this growing popularity plus his personal experience of the dancing table propelled Kardec to conduct more independent experiments to discover how the table was able to think and move independent of having human faculties (brain, nervous system, et al).
After this experience, Kardec become convinced that further observations of this connection between the visible and invisible were essential to furthering what he saw as an evolution of and even a birthing of new natural laws. He believed more experimentation and study might explain the relationship that he believed to exist between the visible world he lived in and the invisible world of nature and beyond.
He also deeply believed that furthering his own understanding and knowledge – and the knowledge of others – in this area could solve some of the world's most pressing problems, which to that point had remained unsolvable.
To this end, Kardec assembled more than one thousand personal questions that he then used to interview ten mediums (none of whom knew the others) on the nature of invisible phenomenon made visible. The answers given formed the foundation of what he would later term “Spiritism.”
Around this time, he also began publishing his ideas under his nom de plume of Allan Kardec, a name of Celtic derivation that in many ways indicated his future path (in that he felt the name had been revealed to him in a manifestation of spirit speaking as truth). On the heels of his inquiry through interviewing mediums, he published the first edition of The “Spiritist Book” in 1857, and then he published the first edition of “The Spiritist Magazine” in 1858 – both under his new Celtic pseudonym.
The magazine publication also coincided with Kardec's founding of The Spiritist Society, a gathering of like-minded members who wished to explore Kardec's ideas further. Around the same time, Kardec also published “The Mediums' Book,” “The Gospel According to Spiritism,” “The Genesis,” and “Heaven and Hell,” each of which contributed to the growing body of knowledge that came to be formally known as “Spiritism,” with Kardec as its founder and the five books as its formal codification. In 1858, Kardec also founded and oversaw the creation and publication of two additional journals, called The “Parisian Society of Psychology Studies” and the “Journal of Psychological Studies.”
For the next four decades, Kardec and his wife traveled extensively to share knowledge from the five books, explore and explain the concepts underpinning Spiritism, and continually gather knowledge to add to their own understanding and education. They mostly paid their own way for these trips, and unselfishly shared their time and knowledge with anyone who was interested. One of their founding tenets was that all reported manifestations of the invisible world – whether through seances, mediums, or other paranormal activities – should first be extensively examined and tested to see whether “normal” and ordinary causes might instead explain their presence.
He cited hallucinations, outright fraud, mental activity of an unconscious nature, and other more ordinary causes which perhaps could account for some so-called paranormal activity. Kardec was also intrigued by the role telepathy and/or clairvoyancemight play in these manifestations.
During the last 14 years of his life, Kardec and his wife increasingly researched and explored Spiritism from a philosophical, educational, religious, and scientific standpoint as they continued to travel and engage others in conversation on these matters.
On March 31, 1869, at the age of 65, Allan Kardec passed suddenly from an aneurysm. Prior to this event, he had suffered for many years from a heart ailment that he refused to let slow him down in his work. During his burial in Montmartre Cemetery in Paris, France, more than one thousand mourners gathered to pay tribute to him.
Later, at the wish of the French Spiritism society members, a monument designed by his wife was installed near the gravesite. His wife Amélie tirelessly continued her husband's work until her own death on January 23, 1883, at the age of 87. In her will, she left everything the couple had owned to continue the work of the Spiritism movement.
Spiritism itself exists today because of the vision, energy, and tireless effort of Allan Kardec and his wife Amélie. The movement continues to evolve under the direction of its modern proponents, and is still viewed as an unfolding of a body of knowledge that dedicates itself to free thinking, open mindedness to new ideas, scientific exploration, unimpeachable moral standards, and above all, a pursuit of truth.
Yet the fundamental tenets remain the same – there are both embodied and “non-physical” beings that can and do communicate with one another with the help of the perispirit, which the individual soul retains after death. Body is material while spirit/soul is immaterial, and incarnation/reincarnation is the vehicle through which evolution of the being occurs.
Spiritists ultimately believe that the ethics and compassion of Christ guides their own path – in other words, by following the Golden Rule (“treat others as you would wish to be treated”) – a willing soul's redemption and progress is never out of reach.