Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 1, Number 2



Eugene Goudeau
Missionary in Campo Grande, Brazil

Editor's Note: While reading the following article, one should remember that Kardecism is a "high Spiritism", primarily for intellectuals of Brazil. It does not represent the "mainstream Spiritism" of the people which is Umbanda an African- inspired, ritualistic and folkloric Spiritism that claims the largest following in Brazil.

In Brazil, the Kardecist faith was imported through the children of high class Brazilians who had studied in France. While the religious movements in France moved on to other philosophies, Spiritism in Brazil continued to expand, making Brazil the largest Spiritist country in the world (Maust 1985:48-50; Read 1965-209-11; Shipp 1985:66) Johnson 1969:23-24; Warren 1968:393). Brazilian Spiritism has been perpetuated by various authors and mediums. The most famous are Francisco Candido (Chico) Xavier, Waldo Vieira, and Eliseu Rigonetti (Hess 1987:15-34; Shipp 1985:67).

The foundation of Spiritism is spirits that are interested and active in human affairs. They can be reached, seen and one can communicate with them (Martin 1965:199). Although there are many interrelated subjects within the Spiritist religion, this study will focus primarily on communication with the dead as presented in Brazilian Kardecism.


The history of Spiritism in its many forms is ancient, but the modern movement can be traced to 1848 and the Fox sisters of Hydeville, New York, and their "talking tables." Even though the sisters spontaneously retracted their Spiritist claims and openly demonstrated their hoaxes in1888 (Kloppenburg 1960:424-47), it was not before the tables had already begun to levitate, revolve and dance around the world.

In 1852 the phenomenon of the revolving tables spread to Scotland, England, and the whole of Europe. The dancing tables moved to Brazil in 1853 (Kloppenburg 1960:11-15). However, it was not until December of 1854 that Hippolyte Leon Denizard Rivail, a French educator and scientist, began to investigate the mysterious phenomenon. After a rather long process of observation, he was convinced of the authenticity of the seances he had observed. In one of these seances it was revealed that in a previous life he was of Druid origin and his name had been Allan Kardec (Kardec 1859:18; Warren 1968:395). Rivail took the pseudonym upon himself and began writing the books through which he became known as the codifier of modern Spiritism.


Kardec believed that there are three essential elements in man: the soul or spirit, the body, and the perispirit. The spirit is the principle source of intelligence. In it resides thought, will, and moral sense. The body is the physical covering in which the spirit dwells. The perispirit is the semimaterial bond between the spirit and body. It is through the perispirit that the dead can act in the physical world and even materialize themselves, on occasion, for the living (Kardec 1859:154-55; 1890:44-47).


Kardec believed that one of the major advantages in talking with the spirits was the destruction of materialism, not by logic, but by facts. The demonstrated communication with the dead proved that there was a world beyond and that the living would one day have to pass through that world. The by-product of such a knowledge is the natural moral influence it exercises on the individual. One is encouraged to live a better life now rather than suffer some of the spiritual consequences of sin that are so vividly demonstrated in the lives of some of the manifested spirits (Kardec 1859:110-11, 158).

Beyond proving the existence of the afterlife, one can learn from the spirits. Through asking kind, sincere questions of higher spirits one can receive counsel about the present life, information about the spirit world, and occasionally, information about previous reincarnations. With rare exceptions, one cannot learn about the future, scientific information, financial investments or lost treasures. These disclosures would circumvent the need for work and research through which the living can earn merit and make spiritual progress (Kardec 1859:168-69; 1861:369-87).


The Bible does record a few, rare incidents of the dead communicating with the living. The most cited, and most controversial occasion was Saul's consultation with the Witch of Endor recorded in I Samuel 28. Saul had already expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land, but he sought some word from God. Samuel was dead, and Saul received no messages through dreams or Urim or the prophet (I Samuel 28:6). In desperation, he sinned as he had done earlier when he offered the sacrifice at Gilgal rather than waiting for Samuel (I Samuel 13:7-14). Saul never understood that it was not he, but rather God, that was in control.

Saul asked the medium, who did not recognize him, to bring up Samuel. When Samuel actually appeared, the witch was visibly shaken because of the vision and the realization that it was Saul himself who was seated before her. Samuel's message of condemnation was consistent with the message he had already given Saul (I Samuel 15:22-35).

This incident is controversial, not because of the text which is straight forward enough, but because of the presupposition that the dead can under no circumstances speak with the living. Delcyr de Souza Lima goes to great lengths to argue that the vision was either fraudulent or demonic in origin (1979:56-60).

There is a more probable interpretation that God allowed this unprecedented communication as another opportunity to condemn Saul for his disobedience (I Chronicles 10:13-14). There was no misinformation or unfounded praise as one would expect from a fraud, and there was no effort to deceive as one would expect from a demon. It could very well be that the woman, accustomed to fraudulent visions, was more astonished than Saul himself when she actually saw the true spirit of Samuel (Martin 1965:200).

A second example of the dead communicating with the living is on the Mount of Transfiguration when Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus in the presence of Peter, John and James. They spoke about Jesus' eminent departure which was about to be fulfilled at Jerusalem (Luke 9:28-36; Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8). Few, if any, would suggest that fraud or demonic influence was involved on this occasion. God obviously permitted this extraordinary communication to fulfill his own purposes. It is important to note, however, that when Peter suggested honoring Moses and Elijah and perhaps even further contact, they immediately disappeared and God's voice demanded that the disciples listen only to Jesus.

Both of these cases seem to be divine exceptions to the general rule that the dead do not communicate with the living. The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 illustrates the state of the dead. The lost cannot associate with the saved and neither can they return to speak to the living.

To what, then, does one attribute the Spiritist experiences? Fraud is a definite option. Although the existence of fraud does not negate the possibility of authentic communication with the dead, the widespread use of deceit is easily documented (Johnson 1969:85; Kloppenburg 1960:66-72; Soares 1984:20-22). Spiritists themselves recognize the widespread use of fraud and condemn it (Kardec 1859:182-83).

Another possibility is demonic influence. Martin insists that there are supernatural manifestations in the practice of Spiritism that cannot be explained in any other way except by the influence of Satanic forces.

There are many Christians, unfortunately, who suffer from the illusion that all Spiritism, or spiritistic evidence, is fraudulent, and prefer to rest comfortably in the belief that Spiritism is not an indication of demonic power in our age. But an overwhelming amount of evidence can be produced, evidence that has been empirically verified by observers whose reputations are beyond reproach, as we have seen, which render such a position untenable.

We must either maintain that the witnesses were prejudiced or deceived; or we must allow that there was a supernatural manifestation experienced by them, a manifestation which the Bible clearly teaches could come from no other source than the prince of darkness (Martin 1965:204).

While recognizing Martin's argument, a third explanation probably applies to the majority of Spiritist followers. The detailed instructions which Kardec gives on what types of spirits manifest themselves, what kind of questions can be asked, what settings are appropriate, careful selection of the participants, time limits given to spirit manifestations, and extensive training and prompting given behind closed doors to potential mediums, all suggests that most Spiritist experiences are manipulated by the participants (Kloppenburg 1960:183).

This is not to say that the participants are not sincere or that they do not believe in the authenticity of that which they are experiencing. It is to say, however, that the majority of them have simply believed the lie. When one accepts the authority of Kardec's teachings, he submits himself to the power of suggestion and conditioned reflex. That belief, combined with a willing spirit and a vivid imagination adequately explains the majority of what goes on in a weekly Spiritist seance (Kloppenburg 1960:104-13).


The Bible condemns contact with mediums and spiritists in Leviticus 19:31;

20:6, 27; II Kings 21:6; I Chronicles 10:13; and II Chronicles 33:6. The clearest passages, however, are in Deuteronomy 18:10-12 and Isaiah 8:19-20.

Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, (Deuteronomy 18:10-12 - NIV).

When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn (Isaiah 8:19-20 - NIV).

Kardec argues that these prohibitions belong to the Old Testament and no longer apply today. God wanted the Jews to abandon their Egyptian customs and justifiably prohibited mediums and spiritists because they were incorrectly using their capabilities to foretell the future, obtain financial benefits, and promote superstition. These abuses continued until the Middle Ages and are still condemned and punished by civil law. Kardec was convinced that if Moses were to return today, however, he would not condemn Spiritists because they have learned not to seek personal gain or promote fraud. Today, they claim, communication with the dead is used to educate, comfort, and serve (Kardec 1865:155-65).

While Kardec's explanation is innovative and even convincing to those so inclined, the fact remains that Isaiah emphasized the absurdity of consulting the dead on behalf of the living. People should consult God through His word and not the spirits of the deceased (Isaiah 8:19-20). The principle of remaining faithful to what was written through God's prophets and apostles rather than being deceived through supernatural revelations carries over into the New Testament and is forcefully taught in Paul's rebuke to the Galatians: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned" (Galatians 1:8 - NIV).


Specifically based on the Spiritist's interest in speaking with the dead, the following areas are offered as possible bridges for winning those who believe in Kardecism and related religions.

1. The Spiritual Realm - Although definitions are quite different, the belief in a spiritual realm is helpful. After some extensive work on the authority of the Bible as the word of God, one should study the Biblical concept of God and the spiritual realm. Jeff Burton offers a helpful outline for developing a holistic theology to reach Spiritists (Burton 1987:12-25; Shipp 1981:58-60).

Our Universe Populated by Spirit Beings

God: The All-Powerful Creator is Near Us
Jesus: Our Living Savior Understands Us
Holy Spirit: An Intercessor Who Empowers Us
Angels: God's Messengers Who Serve Us
Satan and Demons: Evil Beings Who Oppose Us

2. Punishments and Rewards - The concept of punishments and rewards is very vivid in the life the Spiritist, especially as he hears the testimonies of suffering spirits. The Biblical doctrines of sin, hell, forgiveness, salvation by grace, and heaven could all be initiated from this point.

3. Experiential Contact With the Supernatural - The Biblical doctrines of prayer, dynamic worship, and the work of the Holy Spirit can be developed from this Spiritist interest.

4. Study - The Kardecist is no stranger to study and research. One who would convert a Kardecist, however, must know both the Bible and Kardecism well.

5. Order - With time limits and other indications of strict organization, the concept that God is not the author of confusion is attractive to the Kardecist.

6. Counseling - The talents developed while trying to counsel the spirits can be wonderfully used to counsel the living, although working with the living is much more difficult.

7. Confession - Spiritist seances are often used for personal confessions of the mediums as they express the sufferings of their own spirits. The Christian concept of public and private confession can be used to fulfill these important needs.

8. Leadership Development - Those who are selected to participate around the Spiritist table have been trained well to perform their duties. The concept of intensive leadership development should appeal to the Spiritist with a thirst for more knowledge.

9. Spiritual Discernment - The Spiritist accepts the fact that the spirits can lie and in other ways deceive the living. This is an important concept in convincing the Spiritist that Kardec's system leads one away from the truth rather than closer to it.

10. Destiny - Kardec believed that perhaps the greatest advantage of speaking with the dead was the demonstrated proof of the spirit world and the natural moral consequences that would be produced by knowing that the living must one day pass through that world. One controls his own destiny by the practice of good works.

The Christian concept is similar in that man must work out his own salvation through the choices he makes in this life. However, the concept of salvation by grace and the unnecessary doctrine of reincarnation should be good news to the Spiritist concerned with how he will pay for the errors committed in this life on the treadmill of reincarnation.


Spiritism in its various forms is a predominant characteristic of the cultural life of Brazil. Although Johnson points out that Kardecists do not appear to be receptive at the present time and that evangelistic emphasis should be given to the "low" Spiritists, the practice of speaking to the dead is common to both (Johnson 1969:91-95). An informed understanding of the phenomenon should be helpful in not only reaching the Kardecist, but all related religions that seek out the dead for information about the living.

One of the most attractive elements about Spiritism is that it offers a complete world view and access to the spirits of the dead. The disadvantage, however, is that it rejects the authority of the Bible and leads its followers into serious error. Walter Martin offers an appropriate summary when he points out that --

Spiritism does indeed have a tremendous appeal to the minds of many persons confirms for them life after death and reunion with their loved ones, something which the Scriptures also teach, and further declares that it is not necessary to confirm such truth through Satanic channels, unless one wishes to court the judgment of God (1965:200).

1987 Toward a Holistic Theology for Brazil. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois. A Term Paper in Contextualization of Theology.

HESS, David
1987 "The Many Rooms of Spiritism in Brazil", Luso Brazilian Review 24 No. 2:15-34.

JOHNSON, Harmon A.
1969 "Authority Over the Spirits: Brazilian Spiritism and Evangelical Church Growth". An unpublished M.A. thesis, Fuller Theological Seminary.

1859 O Que E o Espiritismo. Rio de Janeiro: Federacao Espirita Brasileira. (Translated by FED from the original French edition in 1944.)

1861 O Livro dos Mediuns. Rio de Janeiro: Federacao Espirita Brasileira. (Translated by Guillon Riberiro from the original French edition in 1944.)

1865 O Ceu e o Inferno. Rio de Janeiro: Federacao Espirita Brasileira. (Translated by Manuel Justiniano Quintao from the original French edition in 1944.)

1890 Obras Postumas. Rio de Janeiro: Federacao Espirita Brasileira. (Translated by lGuillon Ribeiro from the original French edition in 1944.)

KLOPPENBURG, Dr. Boaventura
1960 O Espiritismo no Brasil: Orientacao para os Catolicos. Petropolis, RJ: Editora Vozes.

MARTIN, Walter R.
1965 The Kingdom of the Cults. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship.

1985 "The Land Where Spirits Thrive", Christianity Today, 29 No. 18:48-50.

READ, William R.
1965 New Patterns of Church Growth in Brazil. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing.

SHIPP, Glover
1981 African Roots of Brazilian Religious Beliefs and Practices. Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. A term paper in Anthropology of Religion. (Xeroxed)

1985 Analise de Doutrinas. Sao Paulo: Centro de Estudos Teologicos.

1984 Espiritismo, A Magia do Engano. Rio de Janeiro: Graca Editorial.

WARREN, Donald
1968 "Spiritism in Brazil", Journal of Inter-American Studies, 10:393-405.

This site mirrors the JAM site at the ACU web site.
Mirrored by permission of ACU Missions Personnel
Direct questions and comments to Ed Mathews,

Return to JAM Home Page   Return to OVU Missions Home Page   Return to OHIO VALLEY UNIVERSITY Home Page
Last updated on February 4, 2013
Page maintained by