By Randy Jackson
Concepts of the afterlife have shaped culture and behavior throughout human history, from the building of the Pyramids of Egypt, to the celebration of Día de los Muertos today. Whatever we think the afterlife is “like,” including the materialist concept of no afterlife at all, influences our worldview and how we interact with other people.
From Heaven and Hell to Spiritism
Western thought regarding the afterlife has evolved through time. The concepts of Heaven and Hell did not exist in early Christianity. Christian dogma evolved from the belief in an afterlife of deep sleep until the final judgment at the end of time. Over the centuries Heaven and Hell became eternal rewards or punishments based on the conduct of humans during their time on earth. This concept remained foundational through the centuries. Then in the late 1800’s, a movement that became known as Spiritism (Spiritualism in the U.S.), arose first in Europe and spread throughout the world, particularly among the elite and educated classes. Spiritism held a belief that the afterlife was a continuity of individual consciousness, a concept similar to Eastern religious thought. Spiritism also held the concept that spirits in the afterlife could be communicated with.
One adherent of this view was Francisco Madero, the elected president of Mexico after the downfall of Porfirio Díaz. Madero may have channeled the spirit of Benito Juárez for advice in the early days of the Mexican Revolution.
Madero and the Rise of Spiritism
For a variety of reasons, Spiritism flourished in popularity around the turn of the 20th century. A turn away from the orthodoxy of mainstream religion was a particularly strong cause in the United States. New religions, such as Mormonism and the Seventh Day Adventist Church, were founded in this period, in what is known as the “Second Great Awakening,” a religious revival movement in the U.S. (c. 1795-1835). (The original “Great Awakening” was similar and started in Great Britain, flourishing in the colonies from the 1730s-1770s.)
Another factor that moved western thought towards a different view of the afterlife was the groundbreaking publication in 1859 of “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin. The acceptance that life arose on earth through a natural process rather than divine creation was an intellectual paradigm shift that is still reverberating today. Spiritism, fully embracing evolution as a concept, holds that evolution of individual consciousness continues in the afterlife.
The spiritual beliefs of Francisco Madero were consistent with these concepts. Francisco Ignacio Madero González (1873-1913) was from one of the wealthiest Mexican families of the time. He was educated in France and the United States. In the international educated elite circles where Madero moved, the concepts of Spiritism were widely held. The Spiritist held that there were seven hierarchical realms in the afterlife; Spiritism postulated lower “hell-like” realms, up to realms very much like our physical realm, through to higher angelic realms, and ultimately a realm where individual consciousness (the soul) merged with the divine.
This afterlife view of Spiritism, in which individual consciousness can evolve to higher realms, is fundamentally intertwined with the concept of reincarnation. But reincarnation back into our physical realm wasn’t seen as something that happened immediately. Rather, there is time between lives where spirits are believed to exist in the afterlife realm of their evolutionary attainment. This “between lives” period of the afterlife enables mediums to connect to the spirit of the deceased. In the case of Madero’s mediumship, most of his initial contact, he believed, was with his younger brother Raul, who had died at age three.
In 2011 (paperback 2014), C.M. Mayo published Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. In numerous interviews about the work, she makes the point that Madero’s spiritual beliefs are fundamental in understanding the motivations and actions of the person who is credited with initiating the Mexican Revolution.
Madero’s Spiritism and the Mexican Revolution
In 1908, Madero published La sucesión presidencial en 1910, after the long-serving president and dictator, Porfirio Díaz announced in an interview with American journalist James Creelman, that Mexico was ready for democracy and that he would retire in 1910. Díaz subsequently changed his mind, Madero organized the anti-reelection opposition, Díaz had Madero imprisoned, and proceeded to rig the election for yet another term. Madero escaped from prison and while residing in San Antonio, Texas, wrote a manifesto, the “Plan of San Luis Potosí,” considered the founding document of the Mexican Revolution. (Recall that the Mexican Revolution was more of a series of regional conflicts than a clear war; it might have ended in 1917, with the establishment of the Mexican Constitution, but fighting continued on for years.) Madero’s writing led to the overthrow of Porfirio Díaz and Madero’s winning the interim presidential election of 1911.
Historians have given Francisco Madero a couple of significant titles: “Apostle of Democracy” and “Father of the Revolution.” He has been frequently described as having been a decent and honest man. In 2013, Michael Benjamin Amoruso, a doctoral student at the University of Texas in Austin, published a paper for the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, “A Transcendental Mission: Spiritism and the Revolutionary Politics of Francisco I. Madero, 1900-1911.” (The author is now an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Occidental University in Los Angeles). Amoruso argued that Madero “understood his political action as the earthly component of spiritual struggle.” Madero expresses a
prescriptive Spiritist vision, in which democracy represents a triumph of human’s “higher nature” over the “base, selfish passions” of Porfirio Díaz and his regime.
In his memoir, Madero wrote that beings in the afterlife instructed him in moral and spiritual matters. The political documents that launched the ousting of Porfirio Díaz were likely channeled from a source noted by Madero as “Jose.” Other journals from his channeled works were noted as being from “BJ,” considered by some to be Benito Juárez, the president of Mexico who preceded Porfirio Díaz.
Madero’s beliefs and practices of Spiritism were not a secret in Mexican society of the time. There were cartoons in Mexico City newspapers lampooning the president performing seances; the press described Madero as a “loco que se comunicaba con los muertos” (a madman who talks with the dead). In 1913, a segment of the army rebelled against Madero, and General Victoriano Huerta joined them. Huerta had risen to General under Porfirio Díaz, and Madero apparently did not completely trust him but felt he needed him.
The rebellion resulted in a coup d’etat – aided by the U.S. – against Madero; Huerta had Madero and his Vice-President, José María Pino Suárez, murdered in an alley within the week. Madero was 39; Suárez 44. The New York weekly newspaper The Sun trumpeted huge headlines: “MADERO AND SUAREZ SHOT DEAD ON WAY TO PRISON.” Madero’s overthrow and execution seemed to have nothing to do with his beliefs in the evolution of individuals across lifetimes towards a selfless growth in divine love. His fate was rather a raw power grab by Huerta.
I can’t imagine that Madero and Huerta ended up in the same realm in anyone’s version of the afterlife.