A general term for the belief that the spirits or souls of the
dead communicate with the living through a medium or psychically
sensitive individual. The term has been used with two
quite different meanings in the twentieth century. In conservative
Christian circles it is often used as a derogatory term to describe
Spiritualism in anticult literature. It is also used as the
designation of the followers of the particular Spiritualist teachings
of Allan Kardec (1804–1869), a French medium who also
had immense influence on the development of Spiritualism in
Spain, Portugal, and South America (especially Brazil). Kardec’s
thought was distinctive from British and American Spiritualism
in the nineteenth century by its advocacy of belief in reincarnation.
Prior to his adoption of Spiritualist beliefs in about 1862,
Kardec had been an exponent of animal magnetism and phrenology.
He based his new teachings on spirit revelations received
through clairvoyants, and so popular were these teachings
that they rapidly spread over the Continent. In Britain,
however, Spiritism obtained little hold, its only prominent exponent
being Anna Blackwell, who endeavored without success
to establish the doctrine of reincarnation.
Spiritism and Spiritualism should not be confused, since the
adherents of each section were opposed to the tenets of the
other. Even in France, where Spiritism obtained the strongest
footing, there was a distinct Spiritualist party reluctant to accept
the doctrine of reincarnation.
Kardec’s Spiritism flourished in nineteenth-century France,
and is today well established in South America, especially Brazil,
where it is estimated that there are now some four million
Spiritists. In contemporary South American Spiritism there is
a noticeable tendency to blur formal distinctions between Spiritism
and Spiritualism, particularly in Brazil, where all kinds of
physical phenomena are manifest, including psychic surgery.
The Spiritism of Kardec discouraged such physical mediumship
as materialization in favor of automatic writing, believing
this to be a more direct and unambiguous contact with departed
Modern Brazilian Spiritists also make a distinction between
ordinary automatic writing (escrita automotica), which might involve
the medium’s own subconscious, and psicografia (dictation
from a spirit entity).
Kardec, Allan. Experimental Spiritism The Mediums’ Book.
London, 1876.
———. The Spirits’ Book. London, 1875.
Playfair, Guy Lyon. The Flying Cow Research Into Paranormal
Phenomena in the World’s Most Psychic Country. London Souvenir
Press, 1975. Reprinted as The Unknown Power. New York Pocket
Books, 1975. Reprint, London Panther paperback, 1977.