Allan Kardec is the pen name of the French teacher and educator Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail (Lyon, 3rd October, 1804 – Paris, 31st March, 1869). He is known today as the Codifier of Spiritism for which he laid the foundation with the five books of the Spiritist Codification.
Rivail was born in Lyon in 1804. He was a disciple and collaborator of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, and a teacher of mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, physiology, comparative anatomy and French in Paris. For one of his research papers, he was inducted in 1831 into the Royal Academy of Arras. He organised and taught free courses for the underprivileged.
He was already in his early 50s when he began to study the widely spread phenomenon of spirit tapping. At the time, strange phenomena attributed to the action of spirits were reported in many different places, most notably in the USA and France, attracting the attention of high society. The first such phenomena were at best frivolous and entertaining, featuring objects that moved or “tapped” under what was said to be spirit control. In some cases, this was alleged to be a type of communication: the supposed spirits answered questions by controlling the movements of objects so as to pick out letters to form words, or simply indicate “yes” or “no.”
At the time, Franz Mesmer’s theory of animal magnetism was popular in the upper reaches of society. When confronted with the phenomena described, some researchers, including Rivail, pointed out that animal magnetism might explain them. Rivail, however, after personally seeing a demonstration, quickly dismissed the animal-magnetism hypothesis as being insufficient to completely explain all the facts observed. Rivail was determined to understand exactly what was causing the physical effects popularly attributed to spirits. Not being a medium himself, he compiled a list of questions and began working with mediums to put them to spirits.
Rivail used the name “Allan Kardec” after a spirit identified as Zephyr, whom he had been communicating with, told him about a previous incarnation when had been a Druid by that name. Rivail was advised to use this name so as not to confuse with other books he had published for the French Educational authorities.
The Spiritist Codification
On 18th April 1857 Rivail (signing himself “Allan Kardec”) published his first book on Spiritism, The Spirits’ Book, comprising a series of 1,019 questions, answered by the Spirits, exploring matters concerning the nature of Spirits, the spirit world, and the relations between the spirit world and the material world. This was followed by a series of other books, like The Mediums’ Book and The Gospel According to Spiritism, and by a periodical, the Revue Spirite, which Kardec published until his death. Kardec thus produced the books that form the Spiritist Codification.
Allan Kardec coined the word “Spiritism”. Camille Flammarion, a French astronomer and author said, “Spiritism is not a religion but a science”.
Allan Kardec’s grave is in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. The inscription says in French: Naitre, mourir, renaitre encore et progresser sans cesse, telle est la loi (To be born, die, again be reborn, and so progress unceasingly, such is the Law).