Spiritism is a religious movement formed in France in the 19th century by Hypolite Léon Denizard Rivail under the pseudonym Allan Kardec, that believe in the existence of incorporeal spirits living in non-material spirit world, who can communicate with living people through mediumship. Although it shares many features with the American Spiritualism, it also has an important difference. Spiritists believe in reincarnation or rebirth into human life after death. However, according to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Spiritism teaches the reincarnation of the personality, while Theosophy teaches the reincarnation of the spiritual individuality.
H. P. Blavatsky on Spiritism
Madame Blavatsky wrote this brief glossary entry on Spiritism for her book The Key to Theosophy:
Spiritism. The same as [Spiritualism] with the difference that the Spiritualists reject almost unanimously the doctrine of Reincarnation, while the Spiritists make of it the fundamental principle in their belief. There is, however, a vast difference between the views of the latter and the philosophical teachings of Eastern Occultists. Spiritists belong to the French School founded by Allan Kardec, and the Spiritualists of America and England to that of the "Fox girls" (...) Theosophists, while believing in the mediumistic phenomena of both Spiritualists and Spiritists, reject the idea of "spirits."
She wrote a lengthy response in her "Editor's Note" to an unknown correspondent in The Theosophist:
Would you permit me to ask you kindly to inform me what are the views of the Occultists regarding such works as those of Allan Kardec? What credit may be attached to the positive statements therein contained on such points as the existence of “guardian angels,” the power of disembodied spirits to choose their own trials and mode of life on re-incarnation? Who, again, were the intelligences who inspired Kardec’s Spirits’ Book and Mediums’ Book? The morality of these works is beyond dispute. Who then inspired their author, and how far may their detailed theories regarding the unseen world be trusted? INQUIRER. BANGALORE, 9th June, 1883.
EDITOR’S NOTE.—The works of Allan Kardec teach a system of ethics which merits the encomiums our correspondent gives it. In this code thousands of young persons are being educated, and beyond doubt they will derive from it great moral strength. Since, however, the doctrines of the Spiritist school are not altogether in harmony with those of Occultists, as regards the condition of man after death and the destiny of his monad, we personally have never been enlisted as a follower of the great French philosophy in question. The morality of a system does not prove its infallibility in respect to its dogmas and other teachings. Who inspired Allan Kardec we cannot tell. In some fundamental respects his doctrines are diametrically opposed to ours. With the Spiritists we believe — let us rather say we know — that man is born more than once as a human being; and this not merely upon this earth but upon seven earths in this planetary chain, to say nothing of any other. But as to the rapidity with which and the circumstances under which these reincarnations occur, our Spiritist friends and ourselves are at variance. And yet despite all differences of opinion, including the very great one about the agency of "departed spirits" in controlling mediums and inspiring books, we have ever been on the friendliest terms with the Kardecists and had hoped always to remain so. Recent utterances by our friends — hasty, we think, and likely to be recalled upon reflection — have thrown some doubt over the situation: but this is neither here nor there as regards our correspondent’s query.
The Occultists do not accept the doctrine of “guardian angels,” for reasons heretofore fully explained, in these pages. They do, however, believe most firmly in the personal, divine spirit in man, the source of his inspiration and his all-sufficient “angel” and “guardian.” Only adepts can choose their reincarnations, and even they are strictly limited in their choice by their responsibility to the inexorable law of Karma. According to his Karma-phala, or the aggregate consequences of his actions, is every man’s rebirth and final escape, or emancipation, from the necessity for rebirth determined.
Not all of the Spiritists agree with Allan Kardec by any means. The house seems to be greatly divided. We recommend our correspondent to read J. B. Roustaing’s Four Gospels, translated into English by Miss Anna Blackwell and Mr. Kirby.
- Triad at Theosopedia
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, "The Key to Theosophy" Glossary (Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1972), 364.
- "The Teachings of Allan Kardec" The Theosophist IV no. 11 (August, 1883), 281.