An introduction to and translation of Mexican revolutionary Francisco Madero’s Spiritist Manual.
In the winter of 1911, as Mexican revolutionaries battled to oust the dictator Porfirio Diaz, an author identified only as “Bhîma” published Manual espirita, a slim volume that promised to provide readers with “the foundations of a very lofty philosophy” known as Spiritism. The human spirit, the author wrote, “is a higher entity than our body,” its life not limited to one incarnation but reincarnated repeatedly as it evolves into ever greater states of consciousness. Bhîma, it turns out, was not some Eastern mystic but none other than Francisco Madero, who helped depose Diaz and served as president of Mexico from November 1911 to his murder in February 1913. In her book, Mayo, the pen name of Catherine Mansell, wife of a prominent Mexican economist, provides not only an English translation of Madero’s Spiritist Manual, but also a lively introduction to a text that had sunk into “almost complete obscurity” but, she argues, is essential to “understanding Madero himself, why and how he led Mexico’s 1910 Revolution, and the seething contempt of those behind the overthrow of his government and his assassination.” Madero discovered Spiritism, Mayo writes, as a student in Paris in 1891 when he stumbled upon a magazine called La Revue spirite. After reading the works of Spiritism guru Allan Kardec, he became convinced “he had incarnated on this planet in order to usher in a golden age.” But while he was motivated by his Spiritism and detailed messages he believed were sent to him by the dead, Madero had to promote his philosophy anonymously in Catholic Mexico, remaining “coyly, and sometimes very lumpily, behind the curtains.” In one message, a spirit named José purportedly reminded him, “You have been selected by your Heavenly Father to fulfill a great mission on Earth.” Mayo’s frequent digressions may irritate some readers, but she makes an effective case for taking Madero’s Spiritist beliefs seriously rather than simply dismissing them as “plumb crazy.” “One does not have to be a Spiritist to champion freedom and democracy,” Mayo concludes, “but for Madero, Mexico’s Apostle of Democracy, metaphysics and politics were inseparable.”
The author argues effectively that Madero’s manual is essential to understanding his revolutionary zeal.