Allan Kardec Biography

Allan Kardec was an author, translator, educator and medium. He is likely best known as the founder of Spiritism, which is a spiritualistic form of philosophy.

Kardec was born in Lyon, France on the 3rd of October in 1804 to a distinguished and educated family. His birth name was Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, but he did not keep this name as he progressed in his career. The family of Kardec was Roman Catholic, and this was the religion in which he was raised.

Early Life

Kardec grew up in Lyon and was extremely interested in the sciences as well as philosophy. As he moved onto university at the Institute of Pestalozzi at Yverdun, he finished several educational courses and became fluent in Spanish, Dutch, Latin, Greek, English, German and Italian. Naturally, he was also fluent in French, which was his native language.

Throughout his schooling, Kardec became increasingly interested in the philosophy of education, and he often taught courses for underprivileged individuals at no cost. Additionally, he was a member of several notable societies in the world of education. These included the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry, the Society of Natural Sciences of France, the Historic Institute of Paris and the Academy of Arras.

At the end of his collegiate career, Kardec had a bachelor of arts degree in science as well as a medical doctorate degree. During his studies, he became close to Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, a Swiss educator who had founded a number of institutions in both France and Germany. Together, the two men founded additional schools and institutions, and they laid the teaching model foundations for schools in many parts of Germany and France.

Kardec also authored several books on education, using his given name. These books included “A Classical Grammar of the French Tongue” and “A Plan for the Improvement of Public Instruction.”

The Spiritualism Movement

It wasn't until the age of 50 that Kardec became interested in mediumship and spiritualism. Around him in France, the United States and elsewhere in Europe, interest in spiritualism had reached a peak, and this was in large part because of the “Rochester Knockings.”

The “Rochester Knockings” referred to the doings of three sisters in New York in the United States. The two younger sisters would create rapping sounds in their home, which tricked their older sister, mother and neighbors into thinking that there was a spirit or ghost in the house. Further tricking their older sister and others, the two younger sisters would pretend to speak to the spirit, and the spirit would respond to them with more knockings. For example, it might respond with one rap for year two raps or knocks for no. This was all feigned, but even when the sisters confessed to the tricks, the movement of spiritualism still raged on in the United States and Europe.

Séances and Mediumship

Around the same time that he became interested in spiritualism, the man then known as Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail started using the name Allan Kardec in his writings. It was later found that Kardec had decided on this name when it was suggested to him by a spirit named Truth.

With the spiritualism movement at its peak, many learned people were performing séances at home with friends and colleagues. During a séance, a group of people would sit around a table for hours on end in the anticipation that they might hear from spirits.

One of the early séances that Kardec attended was with two young mediums named Caroline and Julie Boudin. Caroline was 16, and Julie was only 14 at the time. Both sisters were powerful mediums, but the majority of the messages that they received from spirits were frivolous and inconsequential.

A change came, however, when Kardec arrived at the séance because more profound and important messages were being delivered in his presence. This change made a large impact on the way that Kardec saw Spiritualism, and he asked the girls why the messages were becoming more important when he was around.

The answer he received was that he had a mediumship power of his own, and important spirits would continue to visit him consistently until he harnessed and finessed his abilities and fulfilled a vital religious mission.

At this time, Kardec’s presence was prompting messages from the spirits about the entire meaning of life as well as what life was beyond death. Some people thought that this was bunk, however, literature from the day reports that the loftiness and complexity of the messages that were coming through the two young mediums in Kardec’s presence were too inspired and complicated. In other words, there would have been no way the girls could have invented the messages.

Investigation Into Spiritualism

As Kardec continued to become increasingly interested in spiritualism, he took a scientific approach and began an investigation into the phenomena that surrounded mediumship. In this way, Kardec was well aware and had his finger on the notion that some people might be willing or susceptible to fabricating messages from the spirits. He tried to explain paranormal visions and messages in any practical way possible before moving on to the theory that real spirits were involved.


Kardec continued to investigate, write about and explore the world of Spiritualism with a scientific eye. And finally, he created a large questionnaire that included thousands of questions about spiritual communication, the meaning of life, what comes after death, the spiritual realm and nature itself.

He asked all of these questions to 10 separate mediums, and he made sure that the mediums did not know each other and that they were asked the questions individually.

When he compiled all of the answers from his medium questionnaires, he made three important inferences about the explanation of spiritualism and mediumship.

First, he concluded that mediums were able to offer accurate information about entities such as deceased individuals even when they had not known those individuals in life.

Second, Kardec saw that mediums were able to copy skills of the deceased, such as their handwriting or their voice. Finally, he deduced that personality characteristics of the deceased could be taken on by mediums of higher capability.

All of this information was then adapted into a specific philosophy that Kardec developed alone. He called his new philosophy Spiritism, and he defined it as a unique science dealing with origins, spiritual destiny, nature and the relation of all of these things with the practical world.

Books on Spiritism and Its Influence

Kardec wrote several books on the philosophy of Spiritism, including “Heaven and Hell,” “The Medium’s Book,” “The Gospel According to Spiritism,” “The Medium’s Books” and “The Genesis According to Spiritism.” Later, the research that he compiled on psychics and mediumship was an influence on such notable individuals as Camille Flammarion, Charles Richet and Gabriel Delanne.

Allan Kardec’s Death

Kardec died in Paris, France on March 31st, 1869 at the age of 64. The cause of his dead was a brain aneurysm. He is buried in Paris at the Cimetière du Père Lachaise, and on his grave’s inscription, it says “To be born, die, again be reborn, and so progress unceasingly, such is the law.”