Allan Kardec, the founder, with the help of the Spirits, of the Spiritist Philosophy
Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail was born in Lyon (France) on October 3, 1804, son of Jean-Baptiste Antoine Rivail, a lawman, and his wife Jeanne-Louise Duhamel. His parents had more children, but they all died very young, so Hippolyte grew up as an only child. When he was only 3 years old, his father left the family home, so young Hippolyte was raised by his mother, his uncle, and his maternal grandmother.
Jeanne-Louise quickly moved to Switzerland where little Rivail studied at the Pestalozzi Institute directed by Johan Heinrich Pestalozzi in Yverdon. Pestalozzi used new approaches for the time. He was an admirer of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and advocated education for boys and girls. They were taught separately, but when around nature, they learned in groups, seeking to stimulate the abilities of the young students. There were no grades or tests, but the student’s performance was measured by their own efforts and abilities. Pestalozzi opened the doors to all, regardless of the family’s financial means, often putting the school’s operation at risk. The minimum age to enter the school was 7 years old, and at 15, students could become teachers or assistant teachers. It was in this idyllic setting that Rivail was trained and became one of Pestalozzi’s most eminent disciples, teaching the younger students for some time before moving with his family to Paris in 1822.
At the beginning of the year 1823, about to turn 19, Hippolyte Rivail published a paper on arithmetic according to Pestalozzi’s principles to raise funds that would allow him, at the end of the same year, to publish a document entitled Cours Pratique et Théorique d’Arithmétique d’apres la méthode de Pestalozzi for all ages aiming teachers and mothers who wished to introduce their children to this science, according to the Journal de l’imprimerie of the time.
From a very young age, Rivail showed a great interest in science and philosophy. Perfectly bilingual, he translated into German several works on education and morals, in particular works by Fenelón that caught his attention.
In his eagerness to try to improve education systems, he wrote numerous works of science and language, including:
- Plan proposé pour l’amélioration de l’instruction publique (1828)
- Cours pratique et théorique d’arithmétique, d’après la méthode de Pestalozzi, à l’usage des instituteurs et des mères de famille (1829)
- Grammaire française classique (1831)
- Manuel des examens pour les brevets de capacité ; Solutions raisonnées des questions et problèmes d’arithmétique et de géométrie (1846)
- Catéchisme grammatical de la langue française (1848)
- Programme des cours usuels de chimie, physique, astronomie, physiologie en el Lycée Polymathique
- Dictées normales des examens de l’Hôtel de ville et de la Sorbonne, accompagnées de Dictées spéciales sur les difficultés orthographiques (1849)
In 1825 he opened his first school in Paris and in 1832 he married Amélie Gabrielle Boudet, a beautiful soul who would be his faithful companion and a tireless worker who would help him in all his endeavors. Together they founded the Institut Rivail (also called Lycée Polymathique) and in 1844 they opened a Pension pour jeunes filles, a school for girls probably ran by Amélie at a time when girls had no place in the classroom. The couple had no children, but had a little girl named Louise whom they were educating. Unfortunately, the infant mortality rate was very high at that time and the girl died at the age of 10 in 1845.
Between 1835 and 1840, Rivail gave free lessons in chemistry, physics, and astronomy in his home, even inventing an ingenious system for learning to count and a mnemonic table of French history to make it easier to memorize important dates and events. Denizard Rivail had several jobs, he was an accountant, insurance consultant, bookkeeper of the accounts of several Parisian theaters while teaching and transmitting his knowledge to the needy. His training at the Pestalozzi Institute had an undeniable influence on his solidarity and integrity. In fact, born into a Catholic family but raised in a Protestant country, his open mind was always concerned with finding a way to reconcile all religions in an effort to bring people together through a common vector. Years later, Spiritism would provide the solution.
Throughout his life, Rivail was a member of several academic societies, such as: the Société Grammaticale de Paris, the Société Française de Statistique Universelle, the Société d’Éducation Nationale, l’Institut des Langues. One of them, the Royal Academy of Arras, awarded him a prize in 1831 for his thesis on the question, “What is the system of studies which is most in harmony with the needs of the time?” He was also a member of the Institut Historique around 1834, to which renowned people like Ampère, Michelet, Lacordaire, Lamartine or Eugène Sue also belonged. All of them were personalities that Rivail might have known personally before some of them transmitted their messages years later in the afterlife, as Kardec, compiling those messages in The Spirits’ Book.
How did the Teacher Rivail become the Great Educator Kardec?
In 1855, the table turnings were flourishing in Europe, meetings around a table to contact spirits were a common amusement in society, and they reached the ears of the Educator Rivail. Known for his rigor, seriousness, and discipline, he was invited to witness and analyze those communications. The phenomenon caught his attention and he set out to study this new law of exchanges between the visible and invisible world. From that moment on, his observations and studies gave him a glimpse of the consequences from a philosophical point of view and the scope they could have from a moral point of view. His work compiles the teachings of the spirits in five essential books:
- The Spirits’ Book (1857)
- The Mediums’ Book (1861)
- The Gospel According to Spiritism (1864)
- Heaven and Hell (1865)
- The Genesis (1868)
To these basic books of Spiritist philosophy, we must add other essential ones such as: Spiritist Journey in 1862, Posthumous Works, the Spiritist Magazine, and Journal of Psychological Studies, a monthly publication that began to be published on January 1, 1858. On April 1st of that year, the Parisian Society for Spiritist Studies was born aiming to contribute to the dissemination of everything that can advance this new science.
Kardec always denied having been carried away by prejudices. As a cold and disciplined person, he first observed, then analyzed, and finally drew conclusions. He showed that the phenomena were not supernatural, but governed by a law unknown until then. The evidence provided by Spiritism about the existence of the soul, reincarnation, life after life, and the continuous progress of the spirit overturn materialistic ideas. Spiritism provides explanations for all the sufferings of human life, for the intellectual, moral, and social inequalities that are explained by the debts incurred in previous lives or by the evolutionary level of each human being.
Therefore, we can say that Spiritism was born with the publication of The Spirits’ Book on April 18, 1857. We take this opportunity to introduce a comment on the term created by Kardec. In fact, at that time spiritualism was current and referred to a doctrine opposed to materialism, to the belief that there is something more than matter in us, but it did not imply belief in spirits or their manifestations. Therefore, Kardec saw the need to distinguish the two words, since, as he himself said, “For new things we need new words, as the clarity of language requires.”
Since the publication of The Spirits’ Book, Spiritism has had undeniable success in just a few years. The number of supporters grows in many countries and the book has been translated into many languages. The new philosophy takes place in society, and as the interest in the philosophy grows, curiosity about physical phenomena and manifestations begin to decrease.
Many disciples followed in his footsteps and published notable works in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among them Camille Flammarion, Léon Denis, Gabriel Delanne to name a few.
Allan Kardec died on March 31, 1869 due to the rupture of an aneurysm, when he was preparing to move the headquarters of the Society for Spiritist Studies in Paris, due to the growing volume of work. He left us a precious legacy, but his immortal Spirit continues to guide us and work for the progress of humanity.
Allan Kardec (pen name of Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, Lyon, October 3, 1804-Paris, March 31, 1869) was a French translator, teacher, philosopher, and writer, considered the codifier of the Philosophy called Spiritism.
Translation: Bernadete Leal