Graham Jennings reviews a new book by psychical researcher Guy Lyon Playfair on the medium who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Some idea of the esteem in which Chico Xavier was held can be gleaned from his being voted Citizen of the Century in his Brazilian home state. He was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
When he passed in 2002, 120,000 people filed past the coffin and 30,00 joined the funeral procession.
Through his mediumship 458 books were written. By last year sales had topped 50 million. He also passed on countless written messages from the spirit world. In at least three murder trials, evidence from the victims through Chico, to the effect that death had been accidental, was accepted by the Court. One defendant was acquitted and two were convicted of a lesser offence.
Who then was this incredible, deeply spiritual man who remains largely unknown outside Brazil?
Francisco Candido Xavier was born on April 2, 1910 in Pedro Leopoldo in the central state of Minas Gerais. His mother passed when he was only five and he saw her materialised form shortly after. By the time he started primary school aged eight, he was accustomed to hearing spirit voices, feeling their presence and doing what they said he should do.
One day, when the class was asked to write an essay on Brazil’s history, he saw a spirit visitor beside him offering dictation. Otherwise barely literate, he began with the sentence: “Brazil, discovered by Pedro Alvares Cabral, may be compared to the most precious diamond in the world, which was soon to be set on the Crown of Portugal…”
Challenged to write on another subject, with his invisible friend’s help, he showed similar eloquence. Yet he left school at thirteen. Having worked part time since the age of eleven, he held several jobs before joining a branch office of the Ministry of Agriculture. There he remained until his retirement in 1961.
In 1927 one of his sisters appeared to go insane. A local Spiritist healing medium cured her. The family were so impressed that they renounced their Catholic faith and became Spiritists. That year he began practising as a medium.
His biographer, Guy Lyon Playfair, is at pains to point out that the terms ‘Spiritist’ and ‘Spiritualist’ are not interchangeable. Unlike the latter, Spiritists are essentially Christian and wish to restore Christianity to its original state, before the development of Church and clergy. They follow the teachings of Alan Kardec (1804-1869). They all accept reincarnation and it is central to their teaching.
He spent five hours a day after work doing what we would call automatic writing while in trance. (Brazilian Spiritists distinguish between automatic writing, which they hold to be from the subconscious, and psicografia, or psychography, which is from a separate entity entirely. Chico was a psychographer.)
In 1970 a visitor wrote a description of his manner of working. “Picking up a pencil with his right hand on a sheet of paper and his left hand over his eyes, he sat in silence for a couple of minutes. Then his hand slid over the paper at tremendous speed.
“It never went over the edge of the paper, and as each page was filled, a lady sitting next to him would remove the sheet and put another one in its place.” He filled a page at the rate of one a minute.
His first published work was Parnassus From Beyond the Tomb in 1932. It contains 259 poems by 56 Brazilian and Portuguese poets. The literary standard was high and judged to be characteristic of the work of the writers in their lifetime.
Guy Playfair, who has translated many of his works from the Portuguese, poses the question: “Could any living English writer publish a volume of new poems by Shakespeare, Keats, Milton, Hopkins and fifty other poets, both major and minor, and convince critics and public that they were not his own work, but those of dead authors? That is exactly what Chico did in Portuguese, in effect.”
He adds that he wore out a dictionary translating him and reckons he used every word in the Portuguese language.
Chico’s literary output can be grouped in four major categories. Largest is the Nosso Lar, or Our Home series. It contains many works about life in the spirit world, its interaction with earth life in history and evolution, and the mechanics of mediumship. The second and third categories are historical and modern fiction, and the fourth is survival evidence.
Several of the historical novels are set in ancient Rome. They are so detailed it was thought he must have an extensive library for research. Yet his home contained only magazines, almanacs and books on Spiritism (that he didn’t read) given by admirers.
Had he kept the earnings from his royalties, says Playfair, “he could have been a member of the wealthy elite with a penthouse overlooking Copacabana beach”. Yet he gave away everything, living only on his wages and a modest pension. “The books that pass through my hands,” he always insisted, “belong to the Spiritual Instructors and Benefactors, and not to me.”
Some of the money went to numerous Spiritist centres to spend on food, clothing and other items for the poor. The rest went on funding education and welfare projects. It is thought that several million people benefited from his generosity.
As if all this were not enough, he met the public frequently, passing on all manner of communications from the spirit world. They were dashed off in the usual manner, though he once wrote two pages at once, one with each hand.
There was considerable criticism in Brazil when he was not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet his reaction was characteristic and is a fitting epitaph for his life’s work: “I didn’t deserve a Nobel prize. I’m just a man of the people.”
By his spiritual dedication and love for people everywhere, the Medium of the Century was an outstanding ambassador for Nosso Lar, or the spirit world. As such he deserves far greater recognition. Playfair’s labour of love, listing one amazing fact after another, goes a long way to remedy this.
Chico Xavier, Medium of the Century by Guy Lyon Playfair is priced at £7.99. It is available directly from Roundtable Publishing Ltd UK.