SPIRITISM - AMERICAN STYLE
Book review on Reaching To Heaven
written by James Van Praagh
"Only one sure guarantee exists for spirit teachings: This is the concordance that exists between
revelations which have been received spontaneously by a large number of mediums not known to
each other and located in different places."
Statement above was taken from The Gospel According to Spiritism by Allan Kardec, in the
Introduction regarding The Authority Behind the Spiritist Doctrine and The Universal Control
of the Spirit Teachings, in the English edition translated by Janet Duncan.
Throughout history, God has permitted that spiritual truths be given to mankind
by way of intermediaries who transmit information to us on earth, from the spiritual
world to the material world, and these intermediaries are called mediums. They have
come at different times and have been born in different places, so as to tailor their message in
the language, manner, and approach so that those around them can more clearly comprehend
the messages they convey regarding spiritual truths and realities. These "mediums" are the
bridge between the material and spiritual world. The founders of all the worlds religions were
mediums; the sibyls, oracles, necromancers and prophets of ancient times were also mediums.
American Indian and aboriginal cultures had, and still have, their shamans and medicine men
who were, and are mediums. Starting with Swedenborg and continuing through the 1800’s and
on to the present, there has also been an outpouring of spirit messages to the material world.
The faculty of mediumship has always been with mankind, among regular people and more
famous ones, up unto the present day. Currently, popular mediums appear on television on
Larry King Live and daytime talk shows like Oprah and Montel Williams.
But the messages of all mediums must be analyzed and our intelligence, experience, and
reason must be used to determine the rationality of what they are transmitting from the spirit
world. Spirits in the spirit world are at all levels of intellectual, moral, and spiritual
development, just as people are; for they are the very same beings, except some are in the
material world and some are in the spiritual world.
As a student of the Spiritist Doctrine, I believe that today in America there is
one popular medium who comes closest to expressing the same spiritual truths which were
transmitted by the spirit world to Professor Allan Kardec back in the 1850’s and that medium
is James Van Praagh, especially in his book entitled Reaching to Heaven - A Spiritual Journey
through Life and Death published in 1999. It comes as no surprise that he lists The Mediums
Book by Allan Kardec in its bibliography. Now there are a few sections in the book which may
seem very elemental for Spiritists but the majority of the material, I believe, for America at
this time in history, carries a more clearer message of the more complex spiritual truths to
those who so desperately need it in this country.
There are others who are also spreading spiritual truths such as John Edwards, Sylvia Brown,
George Anderson, and Rosemary Althea, being the main ones who have had the most impact
on the American public. Although their work is very incomplete by Spiritist standards, this
work also has a profitable purpose because we are not all at the same level in our ability to
comprehend spiritual realities. But all these mediums help to bring to the forefront the ideas
that: we each have a soul and that there can be communication between us on earth and the
spirit world through the intermediary of a person called a medium. They provide consolation
regarding their deceased loved ones to those left behind here in the material world and they
provide hope by providing proof of an afterlife and that death is not the end of us. They
express the idea that material life has a Divine purpose and the practice of love is paramount.
But I believe, Van Praagh in his book Reaching to Heaven, goes more into detail regarding the
specific nature of spiritual truths and he brings the most concise and clearest view to the
American public of the science and religious philosophy behind spirit communications. These
views, these principles, these spiritual truths are generally in accordance with the Spiritist
Doctrine. Coincidence? I think not. Although some of the jargon and terminologies he uses
may be different from what Spiritists use (but which enables him to better communicate with
his target audience) the ideas he expresses are basically the same as Spiritism.
In Reaching To Heaven, he encourages people to become more in tune with their spiritual
natures; he states we have a soul, that it never dies, and that we should not fear death
because it is only a transition. He states that we have spirit guides who help us while we are in
the material world. He discusses what Spiritists call the perispirit and some of its properties
and explains that the physical brain is not the source of ideas, but our soul is. He explains that
our thoughts have consequences, whether they be positive or negative. He explains the law of
"like attracts like" and teaches the law of reincarnation, karma, and personal responsibility.
He discusses the impact on us of the fluids of spirit entities, calling it a "mental atmosphere"
wherein we are affected by "the thoughts and feelings" of those in the spirit world. He calls
"death - our way home," as he wants people to realize that is where we come from and that is
where we return to. He agrees we basically "die every night" when we sleep. He explains the
power of prayer and especially that prayer is very beneficial to those in the spirit world. He
discusses what we Spiritists call "collective expiation" calling it "group death" and explains
what it is, according to the laws of cause and effect, expiation, and reparation. He discusses
those spirits who are troubled and cannot detach themselves from the earth plane to move on.
He explains that our concept of time stops in the spirit world and that when we return to it,
spirits do not automatically understand "all the mysteries of the universe" and that we are at
all different levels of spiritual, moral, and intellectual development.
He explains, that when our spirit returns to the spirit world, the condition we are in is based
on "a precise reflection of its life achievements and/or transgressions while on earth." This a
very important concept because it tells people that when one returns to the spirit world, things
are not always going to be happy and wonderful. Spiritists know this full well. Van Praagh also
states we reap what we sow, and he discusses what awaits those poor spirits who persist in
malicious and evil tendencies which is very similar to what is described by the spirits in
Kardec’s book, Heaven and Hell.
In Kardec’s book The Gospel According to Spiritism, at the end of Chapter 14, a spirit states
"Of all the trials that exist, the hardest to bear are those which affect the heart." In James
Van Praagh’s book Reaching To Heaven, in Part Two, The Spirit Speaks, he states "Though
there are myriad tests a soul must go through on this earth, the lessons of the heart are
probably the most challenging." It is in this section of Van Praagh’s book, wherein he
provides the moral and philosophical implications of spiritual science, which is represented
through spirit communications which supply moral and spiritual lessons involving guilt, fear,
forgiveness, and love.
Van Praagh states that the soul’s travel towards perfection is painful but if we realize "what
awaits us at the end of our journeys is worth all the agonizing and arduous steps that we have
to take, we would gladly forge ahead." Isn’t this what Spiritism teaches us? Yes, because we
know the purpose of material life and it is my opinion that this medium has done an excellent
job in explaining to those who are unfamiliar with "Spiritism" the same spiritual science as
set forth by the superior spirits to Allan Kardec. The "body of information" that is being
supplied in Van Praagh’s book may not have a name (what we call Spiritism) but, the similar
and important ideas and information have obviously been permitted to be relayed through
mediumship inspiration, with permission by God and the superior spirits, because the time has
come for it to get out with more momentum and clarity in the new lingua franca of the world,
As written in Kardec’s book, The Gospel According to Spiritism, are not these similarities in
spirit messages one of the proofs discussed of the authority, concordance, and the universal
control behind spirit teachings? I believe so.
Written by Yvonne Limoges
The Spiritist Society of Florida