Louis Antoine (1846-1912) was born in Mons-Crotteux, Belgium, in what we now call Wallonia. He followed his father into the coal mines at the age of 12; receiving what he believed to be a vision, he quit after two years and became a steelworker, and after that a hammerer.
As was typical for a semi-skilled worker in the Europe of that era, he went back and forth in search of employment between Belgium, Prussia and Poland. Marrying in 1873, he and his wife welcomed their only child later that year. Although baptised Catholic and considered devout in his youth, Antoine became interested in Spiritism – a Francophone variant of Spiritualism concocted by French devotee Allan Kardec – which held séances and believed in reincarnation. Initiated into a Spiritist circle in 1884, he nevertheless maintained a nominal membership in the Church for nine years. He renounced his Catholic Faith officially when his son, never very robust, died aged 20.
Although he became active for a while in Spiritist affairs, going so far as to compose a catechism for the new religion, some of his activities began to worry his co-religionists. Louis claimed to have discovered his own healing powers. Building upon his Spiritist foundation, he added to their doctrines views reminiscent of Christian Science – especially matter being an illusion, and healing via a strange invisible “fluid” which he apparently was able to supply. Unlike Mary Baker Eddy, however, he did not oppose conventional medicine. Louis also called for vegetarianism and abstinence from alcohol. After his death in 1912, his widow took over the sect, which split in two after her death – the French separating from the Belgians (or vice versa).
Today, temples may be found in both countries, where worship takes two forms: reading from Antoine’s writings and bestowal of the “fluid” by “dressed members” (cleric-like figures who wear black). Their worldwide numbers may be anywhere from a few thousand to 200,000.