P.6: Revelation of the Revelation

In August of 1866 Roustaing succeeded in publishing three thick volumes, the communications that made up the Quatre Evangiles, in other words, were in fact revelations from God himself.

The new "revelation of the revelation," Roustaing explained with a typical combination of legalistic circuitousness and visionary typographical exuberance, that Christ, did not have a body in the human sense. Instead, he had a fluidlic body, a long-lasting "full-form" spirit materialization. His birth and Mary's pregnancy, therefore, did not actually occur, but were instead simulations, so real they convinced Mary herself.

Spiritism and Mesmerism, by introducing the idea that the soul could use the "universal fluid"(the etheric) to make its presence felt in the material world, made this explanation possible. Christ, as Roustaing and Collignon portrayed him, was a spiritual entity with a tangible but not fleshly body.

Later Rudolf Steiner the founder of Anthroposophy would also claim (in competition with Leadbeater and Krishnamurti’s assertions), that the Christ appeared in the etheric (to him).

Kardec however stopped short of giving Roustaing his whole hearted endorsement. In Kardec's view the work-'s flaws did not stem from its contradiction of already published Spiritist texts, but rather from the novel ideas it advanced. "Until we receive further information," he wrote, "we will neither approve nor disapprove of these theorys." Instead, believers would do free to consider these volumes as "the personal opinions of the Spirits who formulated them," not as -Integral parts of the Spiritist doctrine. With this statement, Kardec implied that Roustaing's Moses, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John might in fact have been Esprits savaiges. (La Revue Spirite, Vol. 9,1866: 190.)

According to Roustaing, Kardec dissimulated the self-serving nature of- this intolerance by claiming that when he rejected an idea or communication, he did so not for subjective reasons, but for objective ones. Rejected corn m unicati ons, Kardec maintained, had simply failed to withstand the rigors of the universal control,” an impersonal standard that demanded both logical coherence and corroboration from a majority of spirits.

Kardec's "universal control," as Roustaing  interpreted it,  was simply an ambitious man's ploy to impose his will on others, and to give his ideas the allure of irrefutable truth. (Roustaing, Quatre Evangiles, reponse ses critiques et  ses adversaires, 1882, 18.) This brochure is a manuscript Roustaing wrole in 1866 and Roustaing went onto note that in America, where Spiritualism remained free of dogma and decentralized, it had succeeded in making converts "bv the millions."

In theory, Spiritism was a doctrine that promised freedom, social reform, and the transformation of "human spiritual life. In practice, as Roustaing saw it, Spiritism was an authoritarian sect that "exhausted and imprisoned" the minds of its adherents by forcing them to bend to Kardec's implacable will.

In the end, hoiicvcr, the authoritarianism against which Roustaing fulminatcd served Kardec well. By 1864, the overwhelming majority of groups devoted to spirit contacts accorded a central role to Kardec's texts, and acknowledged the pre-eminence of the Societe Parisienne. The popularity of Kardec's books, the simplicity of the ideas they contained, and their accessible style made Spiritism the philosophical lens through which the French -believers and critics alike - understood seances and the otherworldly contacts that occurred in them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the communications mediums received came to reflect this growing consensus by echoing the doctrine Kardec espoused. By the end of his life, Kardcc's ideas had come to assume an important, if hotly contested, place in the French visionary imagination, which they would continue to occupy well into the twentieth century.

After a brief battle for succession, the medium Pierre-Gattan Leymanie, who had managed to secure the backing of Kardec's widow, emerged as the dominant Figure in the movement.

Leymarie presided over an increasing formalization of the organizational structure Allan Kardec had established, creating an independent bookstore and publishing house to manage the sales and production of Spiritist tracts. As Spiritisrn's structure changed, so did its approach to the spirit world: in the pages of the Revue Spirite - now edited by Leymarie - eschatological speculation and spirit communications gave way to descriptions of spectacular spirit phenomena. Leymarie brought a new concern with politics to Spiritisrn as well. Where Kardec had been careful to stress his political neutrality, Leymarle allowed his left-wing republican views to become increasingly evident.

Mme. Rivall founded a commercial company; this new organization managed the publication and distribution of Kardec's works, the Revue Spirite, and a variety of other Spinitist books and pamphlets.

In mid-1870, a declaration of Spiritists disturbed by this new commercialism discussed their situation with Marseille, the Paris Prefecture of Police's controleur generale. He advised them to distance the Societe Parisienne from Mme. Rivail and enlist Camille Flammarion as Its new president. But the astronomer, who had grown ambivalent about the religious aspirations of many of Kardec's followers, refused. By 1871, the various factions appeared to have reached an unease peace, and Leymanie soon consolidated his position as Kardec's successor. (Archives de la Prefecture de police de Paris, dr. BA 1243, report dated June 14. 1875. 4.)

The stringent laws governing associations during the Second Empire had made Kardec acutely aware that the continued existence of- his Society depended on its scrupulous avoidance of questions involving controversies of- religion and  politics.

As the Empire liberalized in the late 1860’s, discussions of Spiritism began to appear in venues closely associated with the political Left, and some Spiritists became deeply involved in the Ligue de Penseignetnent, a society devoted to lay education and the founding of popular lending libraries. Kardec expressed reservations about the group, but the secretary general of its Paris chapter, one of its largest, was Emmanuel Vauchez, a convinced Spiritist. (Valentin Tournier,LeSpiritisme devant la raison,"  1875)

The age of revelation had passed with Kardec. Now that they had proclaimed their doctrine complete, Spiritists needed to prove its truth with scientifically-controlled evidence. Leymaric made this aspiration clear in his 1874 aftenvord to a French translation of excerpts from the writings of' William Crookes, the famous Victorian psychical researcher. In his essay, Leymarie described the mission of the Societe Parisienne as follows:

Our Society has clearly-stated goals, which are: to explain the law governing the phenomena that M. W. Crookcs has described, that Spiritist phenomena are not supernatural, but instead stem from natural laws, that they are due to the reciprocal action of Spirit and matter. (Jaubert's letter of support for Leymarie, dated June 7, 1875. in Marina Leymarie, ed., Le Proce des spirites, 1875, 119)

By bringing the two approaches together, basing metaphysical speculation on scientific data, the Spiritists believed they had achieved a perfect "rational solution" to the entire problem, for them, science became metaphysics and metaphysics became science.

This growing interest in the work of British psychical researchers was strong enough to inspire a new joumal, La Revue de psychologie, edited by Dr. T. Puel. The Revue was shortlived - appeaning irregularly throughout 1874, then even more sporadically until 1876 - but it nevertheless introduced the Frenchspeaking world to many early classics of psychical research, including the articles Crookes published in the Quarterly Journal of Science beginning in 1870.

See also Louis Jacolliot, Le Spiritisnie dans le monde, Vinitiation et les sciences occulles dans Vinde et chez tous les peuples de Vantiquild (Paris: Slatidne, 1988 [18751), esp. 326-36. Jacolliot, an Orientalist lecturer and prolific writer, provides a similar disavowal of the spirit hypothesis by a French proponent of' psychical research. Jacolliot shared Crookes' belief  that spirit phenomena - in this case, the levitations Hindu holy men produced in India - were the product of a'force psychique.--- He bolstered his case by reproducing one of Crookes' Quarterly Revue articles in translation as an appendix. Like Puel he had social ties to the Spiritists: in addition to participating in experimental tests on Buguet, he testified on Le marie's behalf in the Buguet trial.

The reality of the spirit world, Leymane insisted however , had already been established irrefutably by the -long, very careful and thorough proofs- that Kardec and his disciples had published. Crookes and his fellow researchers may have denigrated Kardec's ideas as unscientific, but their findings led to a different conclusion:

The scientists of the Royal Society of London, so timid about the work done in France, should also carefully consider the following fact: The fundamental principles advanced in the Livre des Esprits have been confirmed by all the experiments performed with new, powerful mediums, and the investigations of M.W. Crookes lend them further support .

Kardcc's ideas were psychical research avant la leitre, Leymanic argued. Since Kardec had based his conclusions on empirical evidence, it was perfectly natural that the data other scientists gathered would support them. The British "timidity" about this fact, Leymaric insisted, would inevitably diminish as the evidence supporting Kardec became ever more voluminous. Despite his fundamental disagreements with Crookes' conclusions, Leymarie nevertheless regarded the British scientist's work very highly, not least for its value as a propaganda tool. Crookes' rigorous experiments, Leymarie asserted, provided Spiritists with powerful ammunition to use in their battle against skeptics.


See also:

Crossing Over P.1: The Making of Spiritism

Crossing Over P.2: Christian Spiritist Conversion

Crossing Over P.3: Taming the Wild Spirits

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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