Codification of Spiritism
Rivail was first introduced to the idea of “turning tables” in 1854 when his friend, Mr. Fortier, who Rivail knew through his studies of mesmerism (hypnotism), told him about what he and others had witnessed, how the tables turned and moved at their will. At that time, Rivail did not deny this possibility, but like others, he attributed it to some kind of electrical force. Later, his friend came back and told him that the tables not only moved but could also be made to “speak”. Rivail was skeptical, but as it was his nature not to deny something based on preconceived ideas, he responded, “That is not mesmerism. I will believe it when I see it, and when it can be proved to me that a table has a brain which can think, nerves to feel with and the ability to become somnambulant. Until then, allow me to see nothing more than fantasy in these stories!”
Toward the beginning of the
following year Rivail met a man named Carlotti, with whom he would become good
friends. Carlotti talked to him about the phenomena with great enthusiasm, and
was the first to speak to Rivail about the intervention of Spirits and other
surprising things; however, he still was not convinced, and Carlotti, like
Fortier, continued to try to persuade him to investigate.
He was finally convinced to
attend a séance in May of 1855. Of
that meeting, he said, “ It was there that I witnessed for the first time the
phenomenon of turning tables, which jumped and ran under conditions that
precluded doubt…. It was also there that I saw some very imperfect attempts at
mediumistic writing on a slate with the help of a basket.
My ideas were far from being modified, but I saw in that phenomenon an
effect that must have had a cause. I
glimpsed, beneath the apparent frivolities and entertainment associated with
these phenomena, something serious, perhaps the revelation of a new law, which I
promised myself I would explore.”
He soon became acquainted with
the Baudin family who invited him to attend a weekly meeting held in their home,
which he accepted, becoming a regular from that date on.
At the Baudin’s home, two girls by the names of Caroline and Julie
received messages with the use of the basket and pencil method.
The communications took on an especially serious and morally elevated
tone when Rivail was present. Rivail
became convinced, in these meetings, that the messages were truly
The spirits revealed that they were not a separate class of beings in creation, but rather the souls of those who had lived on Earth or other worlds, who were now free of the material body and could move freely through space.
Rivail was very
careful from the beginning, not wanting to be fooled into believing just anything.
He recognized, early on, that spirits, as the souls of men once living on Earth, presented a spectra of knowledge that
corresponded to each spirit’s
level of advancement. Likewise, until cross-referenced with other
communications containing the same message, each individual communication had only the value of personal opinion;
each was a
smaller piece of the bigger picture that revealed an aspect of the invisible
world. Rivail wrote, “I
applied to that new science the method of experimentation;
avoiding preconceived notions, I observed attentively, compared
observations and deduced the consequences.
I tried to identify the causes of the phenomena by linking the facts
logically, and I did not accept an explanation as valid unless it could resolve
all the difficulties of the question.” Rivail
said that he recognized communication with the spirits as “a way of gathering information, not
Rivail had also received a collection (50 notebooks) of diverse, spirit communications from other investigators, who presented the messages to him and asked him to put them in some logical order. He at first refused, but later reconsidered after having read through the messages himself.