The Spiritism that is practiced in Puerto Rico comes from the writings of Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, who was known by his pseudonym of Allan Kardec. Although it came to the island through the middle class, which had studied in Europe, Spiritism also put down roots among the rural lower class on the island. As a result, two variations of the Spiritism philosophy arose in Puerto Rico: one formed by educated professionals and another more popular version mainly in the countryside.
Modern Spiritism, the type practiced on the island, began in the United States in the first half of the 19th century. At first, it was conceived mainly as a phenomenon that facilitated communication with the spirits. The trend rapidly spread throughout most of the United States and intellectuals and philosophers in England and France also became interested in the topic. Then Denizard Rivail, who was a medical doctor, began to expand the study of spiritism, gathering his findings in various books. In Puerto Rico, he is considered the father of Spiritism and various Puerto Rican spiritism organizations follow his teachings today.
It is believed that writings about Spiritism came to the island in the middle of the 19th century by contraband, a common practice of that time. In 1856, a Puerto Rican newspaper called La Guirnalda mentioned that spiritism and the evocation of the spirits were topics in vogue in meetings of the island’s upper class.
At that time, Spanish law prohibited such publications in Puerto Rico. That did not prevent it from becoming the most popular topic of discussion in intellectual circles on the island, however. The first to study and practice the Spiritism philosophy were members of the middle and upper classes, who knew how to read and had better access to education. Years later, this philosophy broke social barriers and became introduced to the lower economic classes, which considered Spiritism to be a source of inspiration for accepting the misfortunes of life with resignation and resolving health problems.
Since its introduction to Puerto Rican society, Spiritism has gained followers. At first, the new believers in Spiritism and the Catholics were in constant dispute. Some priests refused to provide religious services to spiritism followers and their families. On occasion, they were accused of writing in opposition to the Catholic Church or offending its members.
Despite the persecution they suffered, however, the Spiritism philosophy spread, especially in the farming communities. These communities tended to be in areas far from the town centers, so it was difficult for the representatives of the Catholic Church to maintain control over their populations. Popular Spiritism, full of prayers, spiritual healing and communication with the spirits, took over the rural region. This kind of Spiritism remains throughout certain rural areas of the island.
Meanwhile, scientific or intellectual Spiritism attracted people of high educational, professional and intellectual levels from a variety of fields who saw Spiritism as a philosophical doctrine and a science that sought understanding of the existence of the spirit through scientific research. Among its fundamental principles is the belief in a superior intelligence that is infinite, indefinable and eternal. They also believe that human beings are made up not just of a physical body, but also an immortal soul, which for them is nothing other than the projection of God.
Scientific Spiritism believes in the reincarnation of the soul, which is seen as necessary to achieve perfection. This sector rejects popular Spiritism, which they call “adulterated Spiritism.” According to them, popular Spiritism is presented as full of healings, witchcraft, images of saints and Indians and all kinds of foreign artifacts. The scientific Spiritism followers are of the opinion that popular Spiritism has given them the bad image they have among some and is responsible for creating negative myths about real Spiritism, which they characterize as clean, pure, philosophical, moral, and spiritual.
Meanwhile, popular Spiritism sees itself as a place where spiritual and physical healing can be sought. For some, the medium assumes the role of doctor or psychologist who can heal both spiritual and physical afflictions, if the latter is caused by the influence of an ignorant spirit that is bothering a person.
Although Spiritism does not consider itself to be a religion, that has not stopped it from being considered the second religious sect of Puerto Rican origin, after the Mita Congregation. Since the 1980s, there have been various churches in the northwest of the island (Hatillo, Añasco, Barceloneta, and Lares) with the name Iglesia Espiritistas Cristianos Discípulos de San Pablo (Christian Spiritists Disciples of Saint Paul Church). This religious congregation was founded in Hatillo by Luis Sánchez Vargas in the late 1970s after receiving a message from the apostle Paul asking him to establish a church. The sect displays a religious syncretism that joins philosophical concepts from Kardec and elements of the Christian doctrine.
Currently, Christian Spiritists continue to organize churches in various towns on the island. Over time, their membership has grown and the emphasis on their work in the temple has been underlined in part by the Christian influence on practices that include Evangelical canticles, prayers and Bible readings.
Despite the emergence of this religious sect with a basis in Spiritism, the majority of Puerto Rican Spiritism considers itself a lay organization. Today, followers of Scientific Spiritism meet in their centers, which are considered more as sites for study and research into spiritism than as places for establishing contacts with spirits. They conduct conferences and talks. The majority of them have a library with a considerable number of books and documents on topics related to Spiritism. On the other hand, those who practices popular spiritism meet in their centers or temples where they conduct their work of healing through communication with the spirits.
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