Spritualism and Science Fiction
Spiritualism and its ideas have fascinated the public’s imagination over the course of the last century and a half, even after the movement lost some part of its appeal after the second decade of the nineteenth century. Still its ideas have always taken part in the creation of many fiction stories spanning over a variety of genres. In the third part of our presentation we would like to explore some of these processes.
In its most basic form (communication with ghosts) Spiritualism has been able to give a defining touch to the horror genre as a whole as well as to most of its sub-genres. This trend at first typical for the late 19th and early 20th century’s works of fiction literature has carried on until present day where many books, films and TV-shows feature characters whit the ability to contact the dead or basically the notion of an elaborate spirit world that interrelates with the laws our physical world. Mediums are mostly part of the plots of such works of fiction, however their “powers” are often stretched far beyond the simple ability of communicating with the dead. Mind-reading, clairvoyance, telepathy and telekinesis are some of the most common features that define the profile of the 21st century medium, a.k.a. psychic.
Along with these regular “updates” to the Spiritualism concepts within the works of contemporary fiction there is also a constant process of genre mixing and hybridisation which has often resulted in certain genres borrowing or incorporating elements originally found in other genres. Genre mixing is a very common practice nowadays in Hollywood which is both the result of the changing profile of the contemporary movie and its public and a natural process of genres evolving with time. The latter has been extensively theorized by media scholars such as Stephen Neale.
That seems to be exactly the case with Spiritualism and science fiction. And even if some typical for the religious movement ideas have been steadily finding their way into that genre over the last few decades, the notion of combining science fiction with Spiritualism still seems a bit out-of-the-ordinary.
A good and recent example for how deep the ideas of Spiritualism have actually penetrated the creative minds of science fiction authors would be James Cameron’s latest work, Avatar (2009). While the film’s main function, many would argue, is to raise a huge array of environmental questions, it does also, in the core of its plot, include elements influenced by the ideas of Spiritualism.
The notion of an alien race living in deep connection with the nature that surrounds it, could be compared, in a much broader and evolved sense, to the idea of people being able to contact another world beyond their normal senses. The mediator in the world of Avatar is nature itself and the connection being established incorporates both notions of life and death. An example taken directly from the film’s plot could be the tree-system that bears a huge importance to the indigenous population.
The “Tree of Voices” enables the Na’vi to communicate with their ancestors, which is basically what a medium does within the classical concept of Spiritualism. And what lies beyond that tree would logically be the spirit world of the dead on Pandora. This tree and its ultimate destruction take a central role in the film’s plot.
The “Tree of Souls” is the other important connection portal in the world of Avatar. The communication being established there is to the whole biological network of the planet. This tree also enables the transfer of a consciousness from one body into another as seen in the final moments of the film. It provides a direct connection between all life forms, as well as to the afterlife, which in a broader spectrum, is exactly the basic notion of Spiritualism. Arguably Avatar’s single groundbreaking achievement could very well be the visual recreation and extension upon the notion of the complex “spirit world” that a whole generation of spiritualist authors used to write about in the second half of the 19th century.
It may sound like a science-fiction joke, but Spiritualism is still alive and kicking nowadays. Its branch called Spiritism or Kardecism (after the name of Allan Kardec, considered as the father of Spiritism) is wide spreaded in Brazil and according to different sources it has over 2.3 million followers, thus making it the third largest religious group in Brazil, behind Catholics and Evangelicals. Moreover, Spiritism is not restricted only in Brazil – spiritist centers exist all over the world, mostly in Brazli, several countries in South America and Europe.
Allan Kardec introduced to the world in the late 19th century a new branch of Spritiualism, namely the Spiritism. He defined Spiritism as ‘a science which deals with the nature, origin and destiny of Spirits, as well as their relationship with the corporeal world’. Kardec depicted Spiritism as a philosophy and science, but with the time Spiritism shaped itself as religion.
At the root of Spiritism lies a dualistic concept of human being, which supports the notion that spirits are immortal and our body inhabits them for several necessary incarnations, so they can achieve moral and intellectual improvement.
Once again the connection between spirit world and our world is made possible through a medium. One of the main forms of mediumship is the “psychography” – automatic writing by which the medium establishes connection with the spiritual world. Psychographies are written without a conscious awareness of the content.
Spiritists doesn’t have any symbol attached to their religion, nor they have any specific rituals or ceremonies such as wedding, funeral, etc., although they recognize The Old and The New Testament along with the spiritists’ law in the five books written by Allan Kardec. In their meetings they mostly concentrate on the sacred readings and their interpreting, physical and spiritual treatment of believers. They gather in spiritist centres, which are often in a home, thus remaining the domestic character of Spiritualism. In Brazil, for instance, spiritist centres are assembled in unions which are represented by the “Brazilian Spiritist Fedearation”.
Whether Spiritism is going to last long or not is only a matter of time.