Spiritism and Spiritualism: The Original Missions
Both Spiritism and Spiritualism believe that the spirit world exists and spirits have an impact on human beings. The impact may be positive or negative, informative or deceptive. Both Spiritism and Spiritualism agree that we continue to live on after physical death in “Spirit World”. Both believe in psychic, or paranormal abilities, like clairvoyance, that make it possible for gifted “psychics” to see what is invisible to most people. Both Spiritism and Spiritualism believe that spiritual healing has many forms and can have a very positive impact on physical health.
Spiritualism existed before Spiritism. Thus, Spiritism can be considered an offshoot of Spiritualism but with a different mission. Spiritism is oriented towards supporting spiritual evolution in concrete ways. Spiritism has a coherent philosophy and cogent principles about how to live together to achieve spiritual growth. Spiritualism, in its origins, was oriented towards exploring the unusual phenomena of spirit contact. It has no cohesive philosophy or principles for living in its origins.
Today, most Spiritualists embrace the ideal of spiritual evolution. However, they still don’t follow one philosophy. There are many psychics who have written books and displayed their clairvoyant and healing gifts in presentations and private consultations who are the figureheads of Spiritualists. Edgar Cayce is one. Cayce’s clients included a number of famous people such as Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Edison, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin (1).
An academic Frenchman, Allan Kardec, birthed Spiritism in the 1850s in France. He asked 1001 questions to psychic mediums about basic existential questions and then collated the answers in 5 foundational books. Questions answered were things like: “What is the purpose of life? What happens at death? Do disembodied spirits interact with embodied human beings?” He published the answers that were similar from qualified mediums who channeled information from highly evolved spirits.
In a nutshell Kardec’s books reflect: The purpose of life is spiritual growth, i.e. to become more compassionate and wise. We keep coming back (reincarnating) through successive lifetimes to get closer to the goal. Karma reigns; the Universe is run by cause and effect. Jesus Christ is an excellent example of one person who reached the goal. Some say Spiritism is a path of practical Christianity, a path that actively supports spiritual growth. Kardec clarified that not all spirits have positive intent so we must be very careful if we open ourselves to spirit contact.
Spiritist Community Centers evolved to give support to those who want to evolve spiritually. These Centers are in many countries, but most are located in the Philippines and in Brazil. They offer spiritual healing (e.g. laying on of hands), classes, training of healers, inspiring talks, and fellowship. People of all faiths are welcome. Spiritism is not a religion; it is a path of life with a philosophy that resonates with many. Over 20-40 million Brazilians use the Spiritist Community Centers when they need help with physical illness or psychological issues. There are 50 Spiritist Psychiatric Hospitals in Brazil that combine spiritual healing with conventional psychiatry.
Spiritualism was birthed in 1848 in the USA with two girls, the Fox sisters, who reported hearing rapping inside the walls of their home unrelated to anyone’s physical actions. Through their psychic abilities, they received a spirit communication explaining the rapping. The message was: a skeleton was buried in the basement of their home. They located the skeleton of the man who had been murdered and buried there. Town officials corroborated their story, as they had been looking for this man’s body after he had been reported missing. Thus the Fox sisters psychic attunements to the sounds, and their interpretation of them, proved valid.
The public became intensely fascinated with phenomena that come from spirits interacting with human beings as a result of the Fox sisters. Large dramatic exhibitions where people like the Fox sisters were on display for a fee became popular. The drama and suspense around psychic phenomena increased when some wanted to prove that contact with spirits could not exist and devised ways to make a mockery of the Fox sisters and other mediums. However, the fascination with getting discrete information from spirits grew. Explorations went on in living rooms with séances, where small groups would open themselves to communication with spirits. Even President Lincoln attended some séances in Washington, DC. They gave him useful information in his Presidency related to the Civil War (2).
The Ouija Board is a contemporary offshoot of séances that is sold as a “game”. A person following the instructions can open themselves to communication with spirits. There are 60+ choices of Ouija Boards on Amazon.com.
In the USA there is a National Spiritualist Association of Churches (NSAC), The National Spiritual Alliance (TNSA), and the United Spiritualist Church Association (USCA), but many spiritualist organizations are independent with no national affiliation. The church services include prayer and a demonstration by a visiting psychic medium. The churches also provide education of Spiritualist history and thought outside of the services. In the 19th century some Spiritualist Camps were set up for families for summer recreation and Spiritualist study. Among the best-known of the Spiritualist camps that still exist are Lily Dale Assembly in Lily Dale, New York, and Camp Cassadaga in Cassadaga, Florida(3). Approximately 0.1% of the populations of USA, UK, AU and Canada are Spiritualist, or about 220,000 people.
Emma Bragdon, PhD is the Executive Director of Integrative Mental Health for You, IMHU.org. It offers online and live presentations giving choices for effectively optimizing mental health. Once a year Emma takes a small group of healthcare providers to Brazil for a transformative weeklong seminar on Spiritist treatments used in Spiritist Psychiatric Hospitals and Community Centers. See YouTube videos here.
(1) Kirkpatrick, S. (2000) Edgar Cayce: an American prophet. Riverhead Books
(2) Maynard, N. C. (2009) Séances in Washington: Abraham Lincoln and Spiritualism during the Civil War. Ancient Wisdom Publishing.
(3) Wicker, C. (2003). Lily Dale: the True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead. Harper San Francisco.
Hello there Emma,
Thank you for this distinction between Spiritualism and Spiritism. I could call myself a Spiritualist and a Spiritist, and I could call myself a Christian and a Taoist. In my opinion, these are all different names for the same thing. Each of us is a spirit in a physical body, and the spirit world influences every one of us for good or for ill. How we consciously acknowledge and interact with it is how we name it. As a practitioner, I have Spiritists and Spiritualists come to me for help and Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Jews, agnostics, and atheists. They all ask for the same thing, to be relieved of the dark forces that persecute them. It makes no difference what language or culture, or religion the client is from. The name I use for my work is simply ‘Spirit Release’. I am searching for a scientific institution willing to test the method, irrespective of the name I use for it, under controlled clinical conditions. I hosted as master of ceremonies the most recent Spiritist conference in the UK, and I am still unable to find such an institution. You can help me, my Dear Emma, by putting me in touch with such an institution, for which I will be eternally grateful.
With much affection