PREFACE TO THE REVISED EDITION
IN the first edition of this work, we announced our intention to publish a Supplement treating
of points for which it had been impossible to find room in that edition, or which might be
suggested by subsequent investigations ; but the new matter proved to be so closely
connected with what had been previously published as to render its publication in a separate
volume inexpedient. We therefore preferred to await the reprinting of the work, taking
advantage of the opportunity thus afforded to fuse the whole of the materials together, to
supress redundancies, and to make a more methodical arrangement of its contents. This new
edition may consequently be considered as a new work, although the principles originally laid
down have undergone no change, excepting in a very few instances which will be found to
constitute complements and explanations rather than modifications.
This conformity of the teachings transmitted, notwithstanding the diversity of the sources
from which they have emanated, is a fact of great importance in relation to the establishment
of spiritist doctrine. Our correspondence shows us, moreover, that communications, identical
(in substance, if not in form) with those embodied in the present work, have been obtained in
various quarters, and even, in some instances, previously to the publication of THE SPIRITS’
BOOK, which has served to systematise and to confirm them. History, on the other hand,
proves that most of the ideas herein set forth have been held by the most eminent thinkers of
ancient and of modern times, and thus gives to them the additional sanction of its testimony.
FOR new ideas new words are needed, in order to secure clearness of language by avoiding
the confusion inseparable from the employment of the same term for expressing different
meanings. The words spiritual, spiritualist, spiritualism, have a definite acceptation; to give
them a new one, in order to apply them to the doctrine set forth by spirits, would be to
multiply the causes of amphibology, already so numerous. Strictly speaking, Spiritualism is
the opposite of Materialism; every one is a Spiritualist who believes that there is in him
something more than matter, but it does not follow that he believes in the existence of spirits,
or in their communication with the visible world. Instead, therefore, of the words
SPIRITUAL SPIRITUALISM, we employ, to designate this latter belief, the words
SPIRITIST, SPIRITISM, which, by their form, indicate their origin and radical meaning, and
have thus the advantage of being perfectly intelligible; and we reserve the words spiritualism,
spiritualist, for the expression of the meaning attached to them by common acceptation. We
say, then, that the fundamental principle of the spiritist theory, or Spiritism, is the relation of
the material world with spirits, or the beings of the invisible world ; and we designate the
adherents of the spiritist theory as spiritists.
In a special sense, "THE SPIRITS’ BOOK" contains the doctrine or theory of spiritism; in a
general sense, it appertains to the spiritualist school, of which it presents one of the phases. It
is for this reason that we have inscribed the words Spiritualist Philosophy on its title-page.
There is another word of which it is equally necessary to define the meaning, because it is the
keystone of every system of morality, and also because, owing to the lack of a precise
it has been made the subject of innumerable controversies; we refer to the word soul. The
divergence of opinion concerning the nature of the soul is a result of the variety of meanings
attached to this word. A perfect language, in which every idea had its own special term,
would save a vast deal of discussion; for, in that case, misunderstanding would be impossible.
Some writers define the soul as being the principle of organic life, having no existence of its
own, and ceasing with the life of the body. According to this purely Materialistic belief, the
soul is an effect, and not a cause.
Others consider the soul as being the principle of intelligence, the universal agent, of which
each being absorbs a portion. According to them, there is, in the entire universe, only one
soul, which distributes sparks of itself among all intelligent beings during their life ; each
spark, after the death of the being it has animated, returning to the common source, and
blending again with the general whole, as brooks and rivers return to the ocean from which
they were produced. This opinion differs from the preceding one, inasmuch as, according to
the latter hypothesis, there is in us something more than matter, something that remains in
existence after our death; but, practically, it is much as though nothing remained of us, since,
no longer possessing individuality, we should retain no consciousness of our identity.
According to this hypothesis, the universal soul is God, and each being is a portion of the
Divinity. It is a species of Pantheism.
According to others, again, the soul is a moral being, distinct, independent of matter, and
preserving its individuality after death. This acceptation of the word soul is certainly the one
most generally received; because, under one name or another, the idea of a being that survives
the body is found as an instinctive belief, and independently of all teaching, among all
nations, whatever their degree of civilisation. This doctrine, according to which the soul is a
cause and not an effect, is that of the spiritualists.
Without discussing the value of these opinions, and considering the subject merely under its
philological aspect, we say that these three applications of the word soul constitute three
distinct ideas, each of which demands a different term. "Soul" has, therefore, a triple
meaning, and is employed by each school according to the special meaning it attributes to that
word. In order to avoid
THE SPIRITS’ BOOK
the confusion naturally resulting from the use of the same word to express three different
ideas, it would he necessary to confine the word to one of these three ideas; it would not
matter to which, provided the choice were clearly understood. We think it more natural to
take it in its most common acceptation; and for this reason we employ the word SOUL to
indicate the immaterial and individual being which resides in us, and survives the body. Even
if this being did not really exist, and were only a product of the imagination, a specific term
would still be needed to designate it.
For want of such a term for each of the other ideas now loosely understood by the word soul,
we employ the term vital principle to designate the material and organic life which, whatever
may be its source, is common to all living creatures, from the plant to man. As life can exist
without the thinking faculty, the vital principle is something distinct from independent of it.
The word vitality would not express the same idea. According to some, the vital principle is a
property of matter; an effect produced wherever matter is found under certain given
conditions; while, in the opinion of the greater number of thinkers, it resides in a special
fluid, universally diffused, and of which each being absorbs and assimilates a portion during
life, as inert bodies absorb light; the vital principle being identical with the vital fluid, which
is generally regarded as being the same as the animalised electric fluid, designated also as the
magnetic fluid, the nervous fluid, etc.
However this may be, one fact is certain, for it is proved by observation, viz., that organic
beings possess in themselves a force which, so long as it exists, produces the phenomena of
life ; that physical life is common to all organic beings, and is independent of intelligence and
thought; that intelligence and thought are faculties peculiar to certain organic species; and,
lastly, that, among the organic species endowed with intelligence and thought, there is one
which is endowed with a special moral sense that gives it an incontestable superiority over
the others, viz., human species.
It is evident that, being employed according to various acceptations, the term soul does not
exclude either Materialism or Pantheism. Spiritualists themselves understand the term soul
according to one or other of the first two definitions, without denying the distinct immaterial
being, to which, in that case it would give some other name. This word, therefore, is not the
representative of an opinion; it is a Protean term, defined by each after his own fashion, and
thus giving rise to interminable disputes.
We might also avoid confusion, even while employing the word soul in the three senses
defined above, by adding to it some qualifying term that should specify the point of view
from which we consider it, or the mode in which we apply it. It would be, in that case, a
generic word, representing at once the principles of material life, of intelligence, and of the
moral faculty, each of which would be distinguished by an attribute, as is done, for example,
with the word gas, by adding the words hydrogen, oxygen, etc. Thus we might say-and it
would, perhaps, be the best plan to adopt-vital soul for the principle of material life,
intellectual soul for the principle of intelligence, and spiritual soul for the principle of our
individuality after death ; in which case the vital soul would be common to all organic beings,
plants, animals, and men ; the intellectual soul would be the peculiar property of animals and
men ; and the spiritual soul would belong to men only.
We have thought it all the more important to be explicit in regard to this point, because the
spiritist theory is naturally based on the existence in us of a being independent of matter, and
that survives the body. As the word soul will frequently recur in the course of this work, it
was necessary to define the meaning we attach to it, in order to avoid all misunderstanding.
We now come to the principal object of this preliminary explanation.
Spiritist doctrine, like all new theories, has its Supporters and its opponents. We will
endeavour to reply to some of the objections of the latter, by examining the worth of the
reasons on which they are based, without, however, pretending to be able to convince
everybody, but addressing ourselves to those who, without prejudices or preconceived ideas,
are sincerely and honestly desirous of arriving at the truth; and will prove to them that those
objections are the result of a too hasty conclusion in regard to facts imperfectly observed.
THE SPIRITS’ BOOK
Of the facts referred to, the one first observed was the movement of objects, popularly called
"table-turning." This phenomenon, first observed in America (or rather, renewed in that
country, for history proves it to have been produced in the most remote ages of antiquity),
was attended with various strange accompaniments, such as unusual noises, raps produced
without any ostensible cause, etc. From America this phenomenon spread rapidly over
Europe and the rest of the world. It was met at first with incredulity; but the movements were
produced by so many experimenters, that it soon became impossible to doubt its reality.
If the phenomenon in question had been limited to the movement of inert objects, it might
have been possible to explain it by some purely physical cause. We are far from knowing all
the secret agencies of nature, or all the properties of those which are known to us. Electricity,
moreover, is not only multiplying, day by day, the resources it offers to mankind but appears
to be about to irradiate science with a new light. It seemed, therefore, by no means impossible
that electricity, modified by certain circumstances, or some other unknown agent, might be
the cause of these movements. The fact that the presence of several persons increased the
intensity of the action appeared to strengthen this supposition; for the union of these might
not ineptly be regarded as constituting a battery, of which the power was in proportion to the
number of its elements.
That the movement of the tables should be circular was in 110 way surprising, for the circular
movements is of frequent occurrence in nature. All the stars move in circles; and it therefore
seemed to be possible that in the movement of the tables we had a reflex on a small scale of
the movement of the universe; or that some cause, hitherto unknown, might produce,
accidentally, and, in regard to small objects, a current analogous to that which impels the
worlds of the universe in their orbits.
But the movement in question was not always circular. It was often irregular, disorderly; the
object moved was sometimes violently shaken, overthrown, carried about in various
directions, and, in contravention of all known laws of statics, lifted from the ground and held
up in the air. Still in all this, there was nothing that might not be explained by the force of
some invisible physical agent. Du we not see electricity overthrow buildings,
uproot trees and hurl to considerable distances the heaviest bodies, attracting or repelling, as
the case may be?
The rappings and other unusual noises, supposing them to be due to something else than the
dilatation of the wood, or other accidental cause, might very well be produced by an
accumulation of the mysterious fluid; for does not electricity produce the loudest sounds?
Up to this point everything might be considered as belonging to the domain of physics and
physiology. Without going beyond this circle of ideas, the learned might have found in the
phenomenon referred to matter well worthy of serious study. Why was this not done? It is
painful to be obliged to make the confession, but the neglect of the scientific world was due
to causes that add one more proof to the many already given of the frivolity of the human
mind. In the first place, the non-glamour of the object which mainly served as the basis of the
earliest experimentations had something to do with this disdain. What an influence, in regard
to even the most serious matters, is often exerted by a mere word! Without reflecting that the
movement referred to might be communicated to any object, the idea of tables became
associated with it in the general mind, doubtless because a table, being the most convenient
object upon which to experiment, and also because people can place themselves round a table
more conveniently than round any other piece of furniture, was generally employed in the
experiments referred to. But men who pride themselves on their mental superiority are
sometimes so puerile as to warrant the suspicion that a good many keen and cultivated minds
may have considered it beneath them to take any notice of what was commonly known as "the
dance of tables." If the phenomenon observed by Galvani had been made known by some
unlearned person, and dubbed with some absurd nickname, it would probably have been
consigned to the lumber-room, along with the divining-rod; for where is the scientist who
would not in that case have regarded it as derogatory to occupy himself with the dance of
A few men of superior intellect, however, being modest enough to admit that nature might
not have revealed to them all her secrets, conscientiously endeavoured to see into the matter
for themselves; but the phenomena not having always responded to their attempts, and not
being always produced at their pleasure, and according to their methods of experimenting,
THE SPIRITS’ BOOK
at an adverse conclusion in regard to them. The tables, however, despite that conclusion,
continued to turn; and we may say of them, with Galileo, "Nevertheless, they move!" We may
assert, still further, that the facts alluded to have been multiplied to such an extent that they
have become naturalised among us, so that opinions are now only divided as to their nature.
And here let us ask whether the fact that these phenomena are not always produced in exactly
the same way, and according to the wishes and requirements of each individual observer, can
be reasonably regarded as constituting an argument against their reality? Are not the
phenomena of electricity and chemistry subordinated to certain conditions, and should we be
right in denying their reality because they do not occur when those conditions are not present?
Is it strange, then, that certain conditions should be necessary to the production of the
phenomenon of the movement of objects by the human fluid, or that it should not occur when
the observer, placing himself at his own individual point of view, insists on producing it at his
own pleasure, or in subjecting it to the laws of phenomena already known, without
considering that a new order of facts may, and indeed must, result from the action of laws
equally new to us? Now, in order to arrive at a knowledge of such laws, it is necessary to
study the circumstances under which those facts are produced; and such a study can only be
made through long-sustained and attentive observation.
"But," it is often objected, "there is evident trickery in some of the occurrences referred to."
To this objection we reply, in the first place, by asking whether the objectors are quite sure
that what they have taken for trickery may not be simply an order of facts which they are not
yet able to account for, as was the case with the peasant who mistook the experiments of a
learned professor of physics for the tricks of a clever conjuror? But even admitting that there
has been trickery in some cases, is that a reason for denying the reality of facts? Must we
deny the reality of physics because certain conjurors give themselves the title of physicists?
Moreover, the character of the persons concerned in these manifestations should be taken into
account, and the interest they may have in deceiving. Would they do so by way of a joke? A
joke may amuse for a moment, but a mystification, if kept up too long, would become as
wearisome to the mystifier as to the mystified. Besides, a mystification carried
on from one end of the earth to the other, and among the most serious, honourable, and
enlightened people, would be at least as extraordinary as the phenomena in question.
If the phenomena we are considering had been limited to the movement of objects, they
would have remained, as we have already remarked, within the domain of physical science;
but so far was this from being the case, that they speedily proved to be only the forerunners of
facts of a character still more extraordinary. For it was soon found that the impulsion
communicated to inert objects was not the mere product of a blind mechanical force, but that
it revealed the action of an intelligent cause, a discovery that opened up a new field of
observation, and promised a solution of many mysterious problems. Are these movements
due to an intelligent power? Such was the question first to be answered. If such a power
exists, what is it? What is its nature? What its origin? Is it superhuman? Such were the
secondary questions which naturally grew out of that first one.
The earliest manifestations of intelligence were made by means of the legs of tables, that
moved up and down, striking a given number of times, and replying in this way by "yes" or
"no" to the questions asked. Even here, it must be confessed, there was nothing very
convincing for the incredulous, as these apparent answers might be an effect of chance. But
fuller replies were soon obtained, the object in motion striking a number of blows
corresponding to the number of each letter of the alphabet, so that words and sentences began
to be produced in reply to the questions propounded. The correctness of these replies, their
correlation with the questions asked, excited astonishment. The mysterious being who gave
these replies, when questioned as to its nature, declared itself to be a "spirit" or "genius," gave
itself a name, and stated various particulars about itself. This is a circumstance of noteworthy
importance, for it proves that no one suggested the idea of spirits as an explanation of the
phenomenon, but that the phenomenon gave this explanation of itself. Hypotheses are often
framed, in the positive sciences, to serve as a basis of argument; but such was not the case in
The mode of communication furnished by the alphabet being
THE SPIRITS’ BOOK
tedious and inconvenient, the invisible agent (a point worthy of note) suggested another, by
advising the fitting of a pencil to a small basket. This basket, placed upon a sheet of paper,
was set in motion by the same occult power that moved the tables; but, instead of obeying a
simple and regular movement of rotation, the pencil traced letters that formed words,
sentences, and entire discourses, filling many pages, treating of the deepest questions of
philosophy, morality, metaphysics, psychology, etc., and as rapidly as though written by the
This suggestion was made simultaneously in America, in France, and in various other
countries. It was made in the following terms, in Paris, on the 10th of June 1853, to one of the
most fervent partisans of the new phenomena-one who, from the year 1849, had been busily
engaged in the evocation of spirits:-" Fetch the little basket from the next room; fasten a
pencil to it; place it upon a sheet of paper; put your fingers on the edge of the basket." This
having been done, the basket, a few moments afterwards, began to move, and the pencil
wrote, quite legibly, this sentence -"I expressly forbid your repeating to any one what I have
just told you. The next time I write, I shall do it better."
The object to which the pencil is attached being merely an instrument, its nature and form are
of no importance, convenience being the only point to be considered. The instrument known
as the planchette has since been generally adopted.
The basket, or planchette, will only move under the influence of certain persons gifted with a
special power or faculty, who are called mediums,-that is to say, go-betweens, or
intermediaries between spirits and men. The conditions which give this power depend on
causes, physical and moral, that are as yet but imperfectly understood, for mediums are of all
ages, of both sexes, and of every degree of intellectual development. The faculty of
mediumship, moreover, is developed by exercise.
It was next perceived that the basket and the planchette only formed, in reality, an appendix
to the hand. The medium, therefore, now held the pencil in his hand, and found that he was
made to write under an impulsion independent of his will, and often with an almost feverish
rapidity. In this way the communications were not only made more quickly, but also became
easy and more complete. At the present day, this method is the one most frequently
employed, the number of persons endowed with the aptitude of involuntary writing being
very considerable, and constantly increasing. Experience gradually made known many other
varieties of the mediumistic faculty, and it was found that communications could be received
through speech, hearing, sight, touch, etc., and even through the direct writing of the spirits
themselves,-that is to say, without the help of the medium's band, or of the pencil.
This fact established, an essential point still remained to be ascertained, viz., the nature of the
medium's action, and the share taken by him, mechanically and morally, in the obtaining of
the replies. Two points of the highest importance, and that could not escape the notice of the
attentive observer, sufficed to settle the question. The first of these is the way in which the
basket moves under the influence of the medium, through the mere laying of his fingers on its
edges, and in such a manner that it would be impossible for him to guide it in any direction
whatever. This impossibility becomes still more evident when two or three persons place
their fingers at the same time on the same basket, for a truly phenomenal concordance of
movements and of thoughts would be required between them, in order to produce, on the part
of each, the same reply to the question asked. And this difficulty is increased by the fact that
the writing often changes completely with each spirit who communicates, and that, whenever
a given spirit communicates, the same writing re-appears. In such cases, the medium would
have to train himself to change his handwriting an indefinite number of times, and would also
have to remember the particular writing of each spirit.
The second point referred to is the character of the replies given, which are often, and
especially when the questions asked are of an abstract or scientific nature, notoriously beyond
the scope of the knowledge, and even of the intellectual capacity, of the medium, who,
moreover, is frequently unaware of what he is made to write, since the reply, like the question
asked, may be couched in a language of which he is ignorant, or the question may even be
asked mentally. It often happens, too, that the basket, or the medium, is made to write
spontaneously, without any question having been propounded, and upon some subject
THE SPIRITS’ BOOK
The replies thus given, and the messages thus transmitted, are sometimes marked by such
sagacity, profundity, and appropriateness, and convey thoughts so elevated, so sublime, that
they can only emanate from a superior intelligence, imbued with the purest morality; at other
times, they are so vapid, frivolous, and even trivial, that they cannot be supposed to emanate
from the same source. This diversity of language can only be explained by the diversity of the
intelligences who thus manifest themselves. Do these intelligences reside in the human race,
or are they beyond the pale of humanity? Such is the next point to be cleared up, and of which
the complete explanation will be found in the present work, such as it has been given by the
The facts referred to, as being of an order beyond our usual circle of observation, do not occur
mysteriously, but in broad daylight, so that every one can see them and ascertain their reality;
they are not the privilege of a single individual, but are obtained by tens of thousands of
persons every day at pleasure. These effects have necessarily a cause; and as they reveal the
action of an intelligence and a will, they are evidently beyond the domain of merely physical
Many theories have been broached in relation to this subject; these we shall presently
examine, and shall then be able to decide whether they can account for all the facts now
occurring. Let us, meanwhile, assume the existence of beings distinct from the human race,
since such is the explanation given of themselves by the intelligences thus revealed to us, and
let us see what they say to us.
The beings who thus enter into communication with us designate themselves, as we have
said, by the name of spirits or genie, and as having belonged, in many cases at least, to men
who have lived upon the earth. They say that they constitute the spiritual world, as we, during
our earthly life, constitute the corporeal world.
We will now briefly sum up the most important points of the doctrine which they have
transmitted to us, in order to reply more easily to the objections of the incredulous.
"God is eternal, immutable, immaterial, unique, all-powerful, sovereignly just and good.