As often happens, last weekend I found myself flipping through an old publication and I stumbled across something interesting. In this case, the periodical was Revue Spirite, which is in French and was created by the founder of Spiritism, Allan Kardec, in 1858. (It still exists today as Revue Spirite: Journal d'Etudes Psychologiques, the official publication of the International Spiritist Council). The bit that snagged my interest begins on page 41 of the 4,700+ page document: a classification of different types of spirits.
Though I can barely speak basic French and can't really understand it when spoken, I can read French . . . sort of decently. (If slowly. Just don't ask me what tense verbs are in—I recognize verbs well enough to understand the meaning of sentences, but I'm garbage when it comes to remembering which conjugation means what.) But after reading a bit of the article—which broke different types of spirits into classes and orders—I was intrigued.
For some reason, I can't resist a classification of spirits—I'm always rooting around for different ways to conceptualize entities.
To speed things up, I dug around for an English translation of the concept, which I found in Allan Kardec's 1857 The Spirits' Book (Le Livre des Esprits) starting around page 91. It's not the same publication, but parts of it are translated pretty much word for word. Some smaller details are different (such as the class numbering system), but it was close enough. If you want to read side-by-side like I did, go to page 95 of The Spirits' Book PDF and page 41 of Revue Spirite.
For my summary of the different types of spirits, I'm going with the class numbers from the French version, but will note what they're called in the English translation. I'm also slightly favoring the content of the original French of Revue Spirite rather than the translated bits in The Spirits' Book, though like I said, the passages are extremely similar.
Here's how Kardec classified spirits:
Types of Spirits
Third Order: Imperfect Spirits
General traits: They're generally frivolous and bad. They hate seeing good spirits be happy; they're envious and jealous. Their memory of suffering is worse than the suffering actually was in reality, and "they suffer, in fact, both from the ills they have themselves endured, and from those which they have caused."
How they communicate: They have a narrow understanding of the spirit world, "but the attentive observer may always find in their communications, however imperfect, the confirmation of the great truths proclaimed by spirits of the higher orders."
You know you're talking to a third-order spirit if they say something evil or want to do something evil. He also argues that "every evil thought suggested to our mind comes to us from a spirit of that order."
Third order spirits fit into four (or five, in the English translation) classes:
Ninth Class: Impure Spirits
On Spirite Revue page 42, these are called Ninth-Class Spirits; they're called Tenth Class in The Spirits' Book.
General traits: They're focused on being evil.
How they communicate: They try to influence people to do bad things.
You can recognize them because of how they talk; they favor "coarse or trivial expressions." These spirits can make reasonable arguments, but they can't keep up the façade and end up showing their hand.
Also known as: demons, infernal deities, evil genies, evil spirits.
Special powers: He seems to imply that they can possess or appear as humans and make them do all sorts of bad stuff for no reason. (Though this also sounds like the kind of thing someone would say if they wanted to vilify people who commit crimes and imply that they can't be redeemed.)
Eighth Class: Frivolous Spirits
On Spirite Revue page 42, these are called "Esprits Legers," which I think you could also translate as light, flimsy, or fluffy. "Frivolous" is probably more accurate, tone-wise, but I still love the idea of a class of "Fluffy Spirits" and will be thinking of them this way from here on out. They're called Ninth-Class Spirits in the English translation.
General traits: They're trickster spirits who like to cause trouble. Higher-ranked spirits use them as servants and order them around.
How they communicate: When they talk, they're "witty and facetious, but shallow . . . quick to seize the oddities and absurdities of men and things, on which they comment with sarcastic sharpness." They often borrow people's names (especially the monikers of well-known folks) for fun, rather than because they want to deceive people.
Also known as: goblins/hobgoblins, will-o'-the-wisps, gnomes, or farfadet (a French folkloric creature similar to an imp, brownie, or sprite).
Special powers: More than other spirits, they seem to be attached to matter, and live in the air, water, fire, "hard bodies" (my literal translation of "les corps durs," I don't know what that means—rocks, maybe?), and underground areas. They can be responsible for changes ("vicissitudes," what a word) in elements and phenomena like blows, raps, physical objects or air moving around. Sounds a lot like elementals to me. They can also be called "striking spirits" or "disturbing spirits" ("Espirits frappeurs ou perturbateurs.") Sounds like poltergeists.
Any spirit has these abilities, but apparently the higher order spirits leave it to the lower spirits to cause chaos. The English translation separates this out into a Sixth Class of Noisy and Boisterous Spirits, but then says that any of the third-class spirits can have these traits.
Seventh Class: Spirits who Pretend to more Science than they Possess
On Spirite Revue page 43, these are called "Esprits Faux-Savants," which is much catchier than the translation. They're called Eighth-Class Spirits in the English version.
General traits: They think they know more than they actually do; they seem profound, but their knowledge is uneven. Lots of falsehoods mixed with truth, and they retain prejudices from their human lives.
Sixth Class: Neutral Spirits
They're called Seventh-Class Spirits in the English translation.
General traits: They aren't strong enough to be actively good or bad. Sometimes they do good things, sometimes bad, but they aren't any smarter or more moral than the ordinary human. They're still strongly attached to material/worldly matters.
Second Order: Good Spirits
General traits: These are more spirit than matter. Some have scientific knowledge or other expertise. They're almost first-order spirits, just not quite there. They want to do good, not evil. They inspire humans to do good.
Also known as: good genies, protective genies, good spirits
Second-order spirits fit into four classes:
Fifth Class: Benevolent Spirits
General traits: They have narrow knowledge, but they're kind and want to protect and help humans. They're more moral than intelligent.
Fourth Class: Learned Spirits ("Esprits Savants")
General traits: They're scientifically knowledgeable. More interested in information and dry facts than they are moral and emotional questions. They're dispassionate and concerned with utility.
Third Class: Wise Spirits ("Esprits Sages")
General traits: They're exceedingly moral and are good at judging things, though they don't have limitless knowledge.
Second Class: High Spirits ("Espirits Superieurs")
General traits: They combine scientific knowledge, wisdom, and goodness.
How they communicate: Their language is always "noble and elevated, often sublime." They're more likely to give us real information about the incorporeal world than any other spirit is.
They're willing to talk to people who sincerely seek truth and are able to understand it. However, they ignore people who are motivated by curiosity alone (that's me called out) or who are concerned with material matters. When they appear on earth, it's because they have a "mission of progress" to accomplish.
First Order: Pure Spirits
General traits: "Influence of matter null" (in the English translation) or "influence of null material" ("influence de la matiere nulle") in French. I don't know what null matter is. Maybe some sort of void that makes up the immaterial world? Is it dark matter? (Maybe I would know if I read all of The Spirits' Book, but it wasn't obvious from the chapter I read.)
They're perfect beings that have passed through all the stages of progress and have broken free of the material world. They have no more trials to undergo, and will not be reincarnated into "perishable bodies."
Also known as: angels, archangels, seraphim
How they communicate: They are messengers of God and follow his orders to maintain universal harmony. They can influence and command spirits of a lower rank. They like helping humans. While humans can communicate with them, it would be "presumptuous" for a human to think that they could order them around.
Closing digressions (I won't even pretend to stay on topic here)
Out of this enumeration of spirits, my favorite is definitely the third-order, eighth-class frivolous (fluffy!) spirits. Not only were they the most exciting, but they also seemed like the sort that you'd be most likely to encounter during the ordinary course of life or a paranormal investigation. I found it interesting that the higher orders of spirits had much less information than the lower orders; I suppose goodness is less complex and interesting than "evil."
By the way, if you're curious, I stumbled across Revue Spirite because it's cited as the reason why spiritualism became popular in mid-19th-century France in Operation Trojan Horse by John Keel.
And that's why it takes me so long to read things—or at least things with lots of references. In addition to taking copious notes, I also have a tendency to do look up everything that's mentioned and spend hours going down rabbit holes. (The same thing happened to me in school; I remember that in my film classes, I'd write down every film the professor mentioned in each class and watch them all in addition to the assigned films. I spent a lot of time in the university library basement watching old VHS tapes.) Anyway, ADHD is great for learning random trivia and terrible for getting things done quickly.
In speaking of random trivia, I could have sworn that Allan Kardec was an extremely minor side character in a queer historical paranormal/horror romance novel I've read, but I can't for the life of me remember which one (and yes, I've already tried full-text searches of the books I thought it was). So if anyone has that intel, I'm all ears.