“If demons exist, it is in your low world…that they are to be found. They are the human hypocrites who represent a just God as being cruel and vindictive, and who imagine that they make themselves agreeable to Him by the abominations they commit in His name.”—some French airhead with a pen in her hand.
Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, better known by his nom de plume of Allen Kardec, was a 19th century French educator and author of several books on the subject of education. However, he was most well-known in Paris for his frequent evening lectures on a variety of topics, usually ones of a scientific nature. These were free to the public and attended by the highly educated as well as the working class, and he usually packed the house. He also had a doctorate in medicine (as well as being fluent in five languages), but his passion was teaching. At the age of 24, he was able to purchase a prominent school for boys which was his primary concern for nearly three decades. Then he stumbled upon another area of interest.
In the 1850s, when the spiritualism craze was at its height in Europe, he was open-minded enough to attend a séance. What he experienced that night amazed and impressed him. The event was also attended by an aristocrat named Baudin, who mentioned to him that his daughters practiced automatic writing. When Rivail expressed an interest in observing this for himself, he received an invitation to the Baudin home. Upon meeting the sisters, he found them to be an amiable but rather vapid pair. They were far more interested in spending their time enjoying the frivolities of Parisian high society than expanding their horizons through learning, which is a fancy way of saying that they were a couple of rich, ditzy party chicks. This being the case, you can imagine how surprised he was when these two were able to write out answers to his questions which were clearly far beyond the intellectual capabilities of these socialite airheads.
For nearly two years, Rivail would spend a couple of evenings each week questioning the spirits through these young women and gathering information about their version of multiple facets of life which exist beyond our perception. When he asked why the information conveyed to him was so much more sophisticated than the semi-coherent drivel so often received by many others, they replied that a higher order of spirits had been sent to answer his inquiries. When he eventually got the idea to put these “conversations” into book form to share with the world, he first decided to ask the spirits what they thought of this. They replied that the idea was theirs and that they had been the ones who had unconsciously suggested it to him, although one might wonder why they didn’t just say so themselves rather than taking the long way around. They further instructed him to publish it under the name Allan Kardec so that it wouldn’t be associated with his other books and to call it Le Livre des Esprits (The Spirits’ Book).
The book was written in an interview format in order to present the most accurate reproduction of the questions posed and the answers given. It consists of over 1000 queries and responses, and so attempting to summarize all of this in a few pages would be impossible. In fact, even trying to hit just the high points in a prose format would be a daunting task, so I’m going to resort to a style that I rarely use, but one which I nevertheless believe will be the most expedient in this instance: wizard points.
- God is an eternal, perfect being without beginning or end. He created the universe, which is infinite, but He is separate from it and not the sum total of His creation.
- Many planets are inhabited, but the beings that live on some of them are so different from us that we might not be able to detect them or recognize them as life forms. The idea that God would create an entire universe just for us is “Insensate vanity.”
- All spirits were created by God and He continues to do so. (“God has never ceased to create.”) Humans are spirits within a material body but are still spirit beings. We also have a perispirit – a semi-material body that envelopes the spirit and allows it to connect to our mental functioning.
- Spirits are created simple and ignorant. It is up to them to grow from their experiences to reach a state of relative perfection, although only God can ever be truly “capital P” Perfect (my phrasing).
- Physical incarnation is the method by which spirits progress toward this state by attaining purification and enlightenment through overcoming selfishness and the desire for worldly gratifications. Since this can’t be accomplished in one short life, we must incarnate many times before we reach this goal. Once this is accomplished, we exist in a “state of perfect happiness.”
- Spirits may reincarnate on one world many times and may incarnate many times on multiple planets according to what best suits their potential for advancement. Spirits almost never return to “lower worlds” once they have outgrown them unless it is for a mission to aid the beings there in their own growth, sort of like most adults don’t go back to elementary school unless it’s as a teacher. Most grownups just don’t need to repeat the third grade. And in case you’re curious, our planet is considered to be one of the lower worlds, although not the lowest. We could also find ourselves back on one of these lower worlds if we screw things up here badly enough. I’m guessing that they’re referring to people like child molesters, serial killers and telemarketers.
- Even so, we never regress in our development. We may become stagnant and fail to progress during one or even several consecutive lives, but we never go backwards. What is learned cannot be unlearned in the spirit world, even if we act like a complete jackass in a material incarnation.
- We never reincarnate as any sort of lower form of life on this planet. We may incarnate as a different form of intelligent life on another planet, but never as anything that we would classify as an animal.
- The circumstances of your next life depend on your specific areas of need for growth and how well or poorly you did in the previous life or lives. A man who was rich but greedy and selfish might find himself born into poverty in his next incarnation, while a wealthy person who was not materialistic and used their money to help the less fortunate would not need to undergo such a trial.
- The situation that we are to be born into is not decided and forced upon us without our input. We have some say in the matter, but we will not be allowed to choose one life of ease and comfort after another. This is usually not a problem, as the perspective of a pure spirit is very different from that of the human. From this perspective, we see ourselves as we truly are and recognize in what ways we need to grow in order to advance. We might choose (or be convinced) to take on a life situation that, from a human point of view, no sane person would ever agree to because, from a spirit’s point of view, the rewards of undergoing such hardship are well worth it.
- After we die, we become a “wandering spirit” awaiting our next incarnation, although they do mention subtle worlds where we sometimes go to reflect and receive instruction in preparation for our next life. This is all pretty vague, and other sources provide a more detailed account of our existence while in the spirit world. I’ll briefly touch on this later on.
- Time does not exist in the spirit world as it does on the material plane, which is a common claim made by multiple sources, most notably those who have had a more extensive NDE.
- We don’t remember past lives because it would be overwhelming and detrimental to our development in the current life. In short, letting us carry our baggage from past lives into the present one would be a bad idea.
- Spirits, both good and bad, frequently try to influence our thoughts and actions. It is up to us to determine the quality of these influences. While low spirits will be held accountable for their attempts to lead people astray, so will those who follow their bad advice. Since we have the freedom to ignore their counsel, “the Devil made me do it” is not a valid defense.
- Spirits often reincarnate with the same groups of spirits with whom they have a connection, although the nature of the relationships frequently change. For example, your grandfather could come back as your grandson, and this allows familiar spirits to interact with each other in unique ways from life to life. Conversely, a lack of interest in or affection for certain family members could indicate a lack of history and resonance between your spirits.
- The spirit does not necessarily have to wait for the body to die to disengage itself. While this is not a major point of concern to Kardec’s spirit sources, I mention it because it is consistent with the reports of some who have had an NDE or past-life regression hypnotherapy and recall seeing themselves being worked on by doctors or EMTs who are still trying to save them.
That sort of sums it up. Actually, there’s a lot more to it – much of it having to do with the nature of spirituality, morality and ethics – but even just summarizing that could go on for ten more pages at least. I decided to stick primarily with what is generally regarded to be the key point to Kardec’s spiritual philosophy: the perfection of the spirit through the trials of repeated reincarnation and the basics of how this works.
There are also aspects of his writings which would anger and offend some of those who subscribe to any one of several belief systems, and I’m not just talking about religions. I’m not going to throw any gas on those fires because I know how that turns out. People want to shoot the messenger, and I prefer not to be shot at this time. If you’re that interested in what the spirits had to say regarding these topics, you can read the book for yourself. It’s a fascinating piece of work and well worth the time, which is probably why it’s never gone out of print in over 150 years despite most people having never heard of it. Some of this also has to do with its popularity in Brazil, where The Spirits’ Book is still considered by many to be second only to the Bible in spiritual significance.
As far as what goes on with spirits between lives, I feel that I should point out that while Kardec’s spirits make it sound as if we just drift around feeling lost much of the time, other sources (primarily the past-life regression subjects of hypnotherapist Michael Newton and psychiatrists Joel Whitton and Brian Weiss) report that this interval between lives is much more structured. They talk about being reunited with their primary soul group and a more advanced soul who serves as their adviser and teacher, and these descriptions are remarkably consistent between therapists and subjects.
I also think that it’s worth noting that most hypnotic subjects and those who have had more extensive NDE experiences usually describe the beings that they have encountered on the other side as being much more loving and supportive, as opposed to Kardec’s spirits, who sometimes come across as being rather judgmental and authoritarian. That isn’t to say that they just excuse you for the mistakes that you’ve made, but they seem to be more sympathetic as far as recognizing that everybody screws up. The more important thing is helping us to recognize our flaws and assisting us in choosing the best way to make amends and overcome these shortcomings in our next life. All sources do agree, however, that this can backfire if we fail to overcome our situation and slip back into bad habits. Someone who was put into a difficult circumstance in their previous life and didn’t deal with it productively might be placed back in a similar situation again in the hope that they will do better this time, but there’s no guarantee. Hence the occasional child who grows up the daughter of homeless drug addicts but goes on to graduate from Harvard, while many will likely succumb to a life of crime and drug abuse themselves. All sources also agree that the Earth is a really tough school, but one which allows for much more rapid advancement if we manage to get it right, so at least we’ve got that going for us.
I highly recommend the works of Whitton, Weiss and Newton, as well as The Spirits’ Book, to anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of the theory of reincarnation. I find it all to be far more life-affirming than any religion, even though that doesn’t make it true. Despite the evidence that supports it, reincarnation may lie beyond the capability of science to prove, and so it might remain no more than a theory for the foreseeable future.
Be that as it may, one of the things that I’ve always been impressed with regarding reincarnation is the high degree of consistency between those who espouse its reality across time and geography.* Some of the details may vary, but the essential message remains the same. We reincarnate in order to perfect ourselves because one brief life (or even one planet) is not nearly enough to allow us to complete such a monumental task, and so God gives us as many chances as we need to accomplish it. With all of this in mind, I shall leave you with a quote from the multi-talented (and sometimes inscrutable) Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner: “Never complain about your lot, for you chose it before you were born.”
*As opposed to Western Occultism, which I earnestly tried to embrace years ago, but became disillusioned with when I realized that different orders couldn’t agree on some pretty fundamental concepts and argued about them just as bitterly as different denominations of mainstream religions.