Kardec, Allan

Kardec, Allan (1804–1869)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Allan Kardec was born Leon-Denizard-Hippolyte Rivail, in Lyons, France, in 1804. His was an old family of Bourg-en-Bresse, distinguished for many generations in the legal profession. Both his father and his grandfather were barristers. His mother—described by many as a very beautiful woman—was adored by both her husband and her son.

Rivail attended the Institution of Pestalozzi at Yverdun (Canton de Vaud), and developed an inquisitiveness and desire for investigation that lasted his whole life. He enjoyed teaching and even at the age of fourteen directed the studies of his fellow students, often tutoring others. His main interest was in botany and he would often walk as many as twenty miles or more in a day, searching for specimens. Despite his young age, he spent a lot of time meditating on a means to bring about a unity of the Catholic and Protestant elements in his country.

Rivail returned to Lyons in 1824, intending to devote himself to law. However, after witnessing various acts of religious intolerance, he moved to Paris. He translated French books into German for younger readers. In 1828, he purchased a large and flourishing school for boys and devoted himself to teaching, for which he was very well suited. Two years later he also rented a large hall in the rue de Sèvres and offered free lectures on chemistry, physics, astronomy, and comparative anatomy. These free lectures continued for ten years. He invented an ingenious method of computation and constructed a mnemotechnic table of French history that could help students remember important events and dates. He published a number of works, including A Plan for the Improvement of Public Instruction (1828), A Course of Practical and Theoretical Arithmetic (1829), A Classical Grammar of the French Tongue (1831), and many more. He was also a member of several learned societies, including the Royal Society of Arras, the Phrenological Society of Paris, and the Society of Magnetism. This latter led to his investigation of somnambulism, trance, clairvoyance, and similar phenomena.

The phenomenon of table tipping came to France in 1850. Rivail saw it as an important step in the communication between the worlds of the living and the dead. The two daughters of a friend and neighbor became mediums, though much of the information they produced seemed of a frivolous nature. But when Rivail sat with them the messages became much more serious. The spirits told Rivail—when he asked—that it was because ”spirits of a much higher order than those who habitually communicated through the two young mediums came expressly for him.” Rivail tested this by drawing up a list of questions on life and the universe, and worked with the two sisters for over two years. In 1856, Victorien Sardou introduced Rivail to the séances of Celina (Bequet) Japhet, where further research was conducted.

Ravail was not himself a medium and so had to rely on others for all of his information. During the course of his work, he collected a lot of information and was encouraged by the spirits to publish his findings and to do so using the name Allan Kardec. Allan was a name he’d had in a previous life, as was the name Kardec. The two names were combined for his nom de plume. On the advice of the spirits, his first book of spirit teachings was titled Le Livre des Esprits or The Spirits’ Book (1857). The book sold extremely well throughout France and across Europe. Allan Kardec quickly became a household name. Shortly after publication of the book, Kardec founded the The Parisian Society of Psychologic Studies and published a monthly magazine, La Revue Spirite.

Kardec received many teachings, including one that acknowledged reincarnation as a fact. This was—as it still is with Spiritualists—a controversial subject. Kardec made a point of publishing only views that agreed with his acceptance of reincarnation. He also dismissed such things as physical mediumship in Spiritualism, totally ignoring famous physical mediums such as Daniel Dunglas Home, for example, because Home did not believe in reincarnation.

The other great Spiritualist pioneer in France was M. Pierart, who disbelieved in reincarnation. Pierart published the rival magazine La Revue Spiritualiste, and for years there was intense rivalry between the two camps. Kardec later published The Mediums’ Book (1861), which came to rank right alongside its precursor.

Over the years Kardec’s influence faded in his native France, but flourished in South America—especially Brazil—and, to a lesser extent, in the Philippines. Kardec had adopted the terms “Spiritism” and “Spiritist” for his version of Spiritualism. These terms were used in South America along with the term “Kardecism” (Kardecismo). Today in Brazil there are Kardecist psychiatric hospitals in operation and fully accepted. The Instituto Brasileiro de Pesquisas Psicobiofisic, or the Brazilian Institute of Psycho-Biophysical Research, collects and studies Spiritist works. It was founded in 1963 by Hernani Andrade.

Allan Kardec died on March 31, 1869. Shortly before his death he organized “The Joint Stock Company for the Continuation of the Works of Allan Kardec.” It was also designed to continue the publication of La Revue Spirite. He is buried in the cemetery of Père Lachaise, Paris. The tomb features a large dolmen, to indicate Kardec’s believed past life as a Druid.


Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The History of Spiritualism. New York: Doran, 1926
Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen: The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. New York: Facts On File, 1992
Kardec, Allan: The Spirits’ Book. (1857) New York: Studium,1980
Playfair, Guy Lion: The Flying Cow: research into paranormal phenomena in the world’s most psychic country. London: Souvenir Press, 1975
Kardecism see Spiritism
The Spirit Book © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.