P.2: Christian Spiritist Conversion

Despite his lofty pronouncements, in practice Kardec's exposition could often seem closer to old-fashioned metaphysical deduction, for example, did Kardec's assertion of the irrefutable truth of reincarnation differ from a Catholic's assertion of the reality of transubstantiation? Some "spirits" argued for reincarnation, while others especially those who spoke to Anglo-Saxons - argued against it.

Kardec sought to address this objection by appealing to the truth-determining power of rigorously applied logic. The rational and the true, for Kardec, were Identical. Hence, in his view, the unparalleled rationality of Spiritist doctrine gave it a greater claim to truth than any other philosophy could command.

In the spring of 1858 Kardec decided to found the Societe Parisienne des Etudes Spirites. In the late 1850s and early 1860s, small Spiritist groups began to proliferate throughout France, especially in Paris, Lyon and Bordeaux. Many of these groups initiated corresponding relationships with the Societe Parisienne, which its periodical the Revue Spirite's publicity quickly made into the most visible French organization of its kind.

In its early years, Kardec presented the Societe Parisienne similar to the Society for Psychical Research in London, as a body devoted to unbiased inquiry. into the mysteries of the beyond. To demonstrate the openness of his Society, Kardec began to include its minutes in the Revue Spirite. This publicity imparted a new degree of transparency to the elaboration of Spiritist doctrine. Readers who did not live in Pan's could now follow the Societe's deliberations and independently evaluate its Judgments of spirit communications and new ideas. In addition to reassuring readers of the objective character of the Spiritist enterprise, Kardec's efforts to create a sense of his own impartiality in this early period served as an implicit rebuttal to the increasingly virulent screeds against Spiritist dogmatism.

With the founding of his School of moral, philosophical and Christian Spiritism. Kardec suggested two new rules Spirit Societies should adopt in order to ensure the necessary "uniformity of doctrine." First, each Society was to require its members to make a "categorical declaration of loyalty, and a formal statement of adhesion to the doctrine of the Livre des Esprits." Second, societies were to reaffirm this initial commitment by starting each meeting with a quotation from either the Livre des Mediums or the Livre des Esprits. The Socite Parisienne would sever all ties with any group that refused to accept these new rules and make Kardec's doctrine its primary object of study.

Kardec's article also advanced a new scheme for the management of the increasingly numerous Spirit Societies that had appeared since 1858. Previously, these groups had only. been connected to the Societe Parisienne by informal correspondence. Now, Kardec proposed a more structured organization. In order to give small groups a node around which to congregate, Kardec recommended the creation of a "directing group" in every French city with a large Spiritist population. (La Revue Spirite, Vol.4 (1861): 3&4--385)

An increasing number of Spiritists also began publishing their own collections of spirit writings. These texts tended to support Kardec's ideas, and to acknowledge the debt by presenting his works as essential reading for anyone interested in contacts with the beyond. In his large book of dialogues with the various spirits his wife contacted, the homeopathic doctor L.T. Houat included a footnote sending readers in search of "more detailed Instructions" to Kardec's works.  Henri Decon, for his part, announced his intention to publish a new journal devoted entirely to spirit communications - most of them received by his wife - In an 1862 manifesto exhorting his readers to follow Kardec's example:

M. Kardec has just called to us: Sow! Sow! Who could remain deaf to this voice, echo of the conscience of every Spiritist? Who would not wish to help this fen.ent chief laborer? He has struck the first blows, he does not rest. Let us imitate: him, and bring our small contribution of grain  God, seeing our good will, will make it grow. (La Revue Spirite, Vol.6,1863: 156.  'Un Capitaine Spiritisme').

Kardec's final book, La Gazette selon le Spiritisme, appeared in 1868, and strongly reflected this turn to millenarianism. The work closed with a series of communications and commentaries declaring that "the time chosen by God has come," and that a new generation of highly-evolved souls was in the process of- being incarnated on Earth. (1)

These more elevated, intelligent humans would transform the planet's social organization, introducing a golden age of charity and fraternity. By the dawn of- the twentieth century, Spiritism would become "on which the human race will turn," the basis for an unshakable new faith in the immortality of the soul and the profoundly moral nature of the universe.”

Kardec did not live to assess the validity of this prophecy. After several years of faltering health, he died of a heart attack on March 31, 1869.

As Kardec himself maintained, simply. reading Spinitist texts did not make one a true "adept." (La Revue SpirUe. Vol. 11, 1868,1) This new spiritual system, he wrote, extended its greatest benefits to those who held seances,

Kardec's correspondence and the papers associated with the early years of the Societe Parisienne appear to have been burned in the early 1880s. But in a long article published in the January 1869 Revue Spirite Kardec put the total number of French Spiritists at an entirely implausible 600,000.

"French Spiritists, he asserted, were seventy per cent male. They tended to be moderately educated: thirty per cent had received a "careful instruction" and twenty per cent a “superior instruction," while ten percent were "simply literate." Spiritists generally considered themselves Catholic, though "not attached to dogma."

According to Kardec, French Spiritism "has propagated the most in the petite bourgeoisie and the working class," appealing above all to artisans, clerks, and small shopkeepers. This was particularly. true in Bordeaux and Lyons, which, according to his account, had large contingents of working and lower middle class Spiritists. Kardec's description of the average French Spiritist, while probably based on a valid empirical foundation, also bears the marks of self-serving distortion. Possible motives for the alteration of data emerge clearly in Kardec's analysis of his figures. By presenting Spiritism as being above all the concern of educated men, he sought to emphasize its seriousness and respectability. The numbers, Kardec wrote, demonstrated that the great majority of Spiritists come from the enlightened classes, and not from among the ignorant. Everywhere Spiritism has spread from the top to the bottom of the social scale; in no place has it developed first in the inferior ranks.

Kardec also argued, women's innate predisposition to believe unquestioningly, and to be seduced by the uncanny, made them less likely to be attracted to the new doctrine.

The Spiritist enterprise was scientific, not mystical; its adherents prized objective discovery over intuitive insight. This rationalism, Kardec asserted, made Spiritism a predominantly masculine endeavor - it was a doctrine for scientists.

Oppenheim provides several short case studies that illustrate this point, including those of Samuel Carter Hall and Florence Maryatt. Turner describes the case of EW. H. Myers and his 1899 contact with Annie Marshall in Between Science and Religion: The Reaction to Scientific Naturalism in Late Victorian England (1974)

The work of Philippe Arias provides some insight into why this promise of continued contact after death exerted such a remarkable attraction for people in mid nineteenth-century France. In his view, a Romantic -revolution in coupled with the rise of a sense of the domestic sphere as a separate, private world, defined by, a small number of intense relationships, he argues, changed the prevailing view of death. Individuals became less concerned with their own fate in the afterlife, and more concerned with the pain the loss of loved ones would cause. (The Hour of our Death, 1981, 602-614, and Spiritisme, Vol.7 1888: 8)

Flammarion's Conversion.

In addition to responding to specific instances of grief many- saw these new ideas and practices in much the same way Kardec had in his early days - as a remark-able solution to the metaphysical conundrums of the age. This was certainly the case for the young Camille Flammarion. The story of his discovery of Kardec's ideas provides important general insights into the nature of Spiritism's attraction for believers during this period.

Flammarion was born in 1842 to a relatively prosperous farm family in the Haute Marne, and received most of his education at the nearby Cathedral school in Langres. A series of financial reversals forced his family to move to Paris in the mid 1 850’s, where Flammarion gave up his plans to become a priest and instead found work as an apprentice engraver.

In 1858, a doctor visiting Flammarion's apartment happened upon a long manuscript on astronomy the young man had written. Impressed by the precocity of the work, the doctor encouraged Flammarion to apply, for a job at the Pan's Observatory, and procured him the appropriate letters of introduction. Shortly thereafter, Le Verrier, head of the Observatory, hired him as a student astronomer.

Flammarion's studies at the Observatory allowed him to pursue his passion for astronomy, but they also brought about a spiritual crisis. When he arrived at the Observatory, Flammarion had a strong, literal-minded faith, the product of religious training and the example of a rigorously devout mother. He was entirely convinced "of the divinity of Jesus and His real presence in the Eucharist," attended Mass every Sunday, and confessed his sins regularly.

By 1860, when he turned eighteen, this certainty had almost completely eroded. When regarded with a scientifically informed eye, he wrote, the words of the Bible came to appear -quite novelistic. By the end of his eighteenth year, Flammarion had entirely ceased to believe "in the divinity of Jesus, in the sacraments, and in all the teachings of- the Church."

This break with the Catholic Church took a serious emotional toll. While Flammarion felt he had no choice but to abandon the irrational faith of his childhood, he found no emotional substitute for it. The philosophical spiritualism of thinkers like Descartes, Kant and Lcibnitz provided him a measure of consolation, but these ideas lacked the reassuring concreteness of his old belief. They provided intriguing speculations, he asserted, but no tangible evidence to match the miracles of the Church. Flammarion remembered this period of his life as among the most difficult: "my eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth years," he wrote, -were years of horrible anxiety; even though my work exhausted me, I had many sleepless nights. (Patrick Fuenth and Philippe de la Cortadiare, Camille Flammarion, 1994, 23-57.)

Allan Kardec's philosophy appeared not only to resolve the logical inconsistencies of Catholic dogma, but also to constitute a definitive metaphysical truth, scientifically proved with empirical evidence. In a letter to his friend Charles Burdy, Flammarion mentioned his new discovery with excitement. He had just finished reading the Livre des Esprits a second time. Allan Kardec, he asserted, was a "profound thinker," and gave every sign of presenting his ideas in good faith. Either Spiritism is not a utopia," Flammarion wrote, "or this thinker is mad."

Kardec received Flamarion "quite affably," and struck the young astronomy student as surprisingly reasonable. The older man remained entirely welcoming, and after Flammarion admitted that, despite his attraction to the new doctrine, he would not accept it completely until he had witnessed some convincing spirit phenomena. At the end of- their discussion, Kardec invited Flammarion to a meeting of the Socite Parisienne scheduled for the end of the week.

At the gathering a female enthusiastic believer who was also at the Society meeting, probably Hononine Huct, invited Flammarion to a gathering that would surely succeed in eliciting a manifestation that would convince him. The seance far exceeded Flammarion's expectations. A spirit named Balthazar not only produced an impressive array of raps, but also caused a table to rise off the floor and hang in the air with no visible means of support. In a letter to Burdy, Flammarion wrote that he was able to turn the table's rollers freely, and felt it tilt gently when he pressed on Its surface.  These manifestations provided Flammarion with the irrefutable physical proof that he craved. In the presence of such phenomena, he wrote, "it is impossible to deny. the existence of invisible agents."

On November 2, 1861, only two days after his experiment with the spirit Balthazar, Flammarion wrote a letter to Allan Kardec asking to be admitted as an associate member of the Societe Parisienne, Kardec accepted his application on November 15.

By late December, Flammarion had become an enthusiastic adherent of Kardec's doctrine. He described his new convictions in a letter to the Abe Berillon of Langres, who had been his confessor during his days at the Cathedral school there:

Have you heard of Spiritism? It is a nest, science that has just appeared on the horizon, and emanates from God himself, through the ministry, of His spirits. This religion surprises at first, but is rational, and will be the culmination of Christianity; it explains all the dogmatic truths of the future life that have previously been so mysterious.

I do not ask you to reflect on this new doctrine, my dear Superior, since I know you always reflect. If you would like, I could discuss it with you at greater length, and, if you will, ex professor since I am in intimate relations with spirits who hale already lived on Earth, particularly Galileo and Fendlon; they have taught me the same truths that other spirits have dictated throughout the world. I should warn you in advance that I am not in the presence or under the influence of any evil spirit: I study Spiritism as I study mathematics.

Spiritism's empirical basis made the immortality of- the soul an incontrovertible fact. The rationality of its philosophy appeared to resolve the disconcerting "mysteries- of Catholic dogma, transforming faith from a matter of intuition to a matter of reasoned judgment. In Spiritism, religious knowledge was as clear as mathematics, a matter not for ecstatic contemplation, but for rigorous logical analysis. Spiritism also allowed its adepts a reassuringly direct contact with the beyond: in his times of doubt, Flammarion could pose his questions to Galileo and Fendlon, who would provide him with ready-made revelations suited to his personal circumstances. In fact, Galileo inspired the young astronomy student to write a long essay on the origins of the universe, which Kardec canonized by including it in his 1868 Selon le Spiritisme.

After his conversion, Flammarion quickly, became one of the most visible apologists for Kardec's doctrine.

(1)  H.P. Blavatsky a former follower of Kardec, would later make similar pronouncements: indigochildren.html

See also:

Crossing Over P.1: The Making of Spiritism

Crossing Over P.3: Taming the Wild Spirits

Crossing Over P.4: Revelation of the Revelation

Crossing Over P.5: Phenomena on Trial

Crossing Over P.6: Theosophists a Galore

Crossing Over P.7: The Esoteric

Crossing Over P.8: The Never Ending Story?

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