Occult and Spiritual Phenomena in the Light of Modern Science
Theosophist, November, 1882
I have just received Light—the ablest of the Spiritual periodicals of England—of September 23, and read its “NOTES BY THE WAY,” contributed by “M. A. (Oxon),” with an unusual interest. So great was the latter indeed, that it makes me depart for once from my editorial impersonality and answer the “Notes” over my own signature.
Not further back than a year ago, especially if I had read those notes in the parched and scorching plains of India, I might have deeply resented their unfriendly tone. But now from an altitude of over 8000 feet above the sea level, having just enjoyed the privilege of passing forty-eight hours in the company of those much doubted BROTHERS of ours, and certain of our Theosophists, moreover, who crossed over to Sikkim and made their personal acquaintances, representing additional legal evidence in favour of my claims—I am rather inclined to feel amused than otherwise.
Indeed, I find that neither that very unfriendly tone assumed for some time past against myself in the “Notes,” nor even the incessant thrusts in the direction of the BROTHERS, are capable of ruffling my present placidity. Yet I confess that, coming as they do from one, who neither himself, nor his “Imperator” (for whom, I believe, he must feel as much reverence as I do for our Protectors and MASTERS), has ever been spoken of in a mocking or contemptuous tone nor even in an unfriendly way in our journal—does seem rather startling. At any rate, “M.A. (Oxon)’s” present attitude is rather more dangerous for himself, and the cause he represents and labours for so zealously, than it is for the BROTHERS or even my own humble self, since, indeed, his hearty approbation of the inimical criticism that closes the review of Mr. Sinnett’s Occult World in a Scientific paper he quotes from, seems directed far more against Spiritual phenomena in general, and mediums and “Spirits’ in particular, than it is against Occult Science and its great living Professors. I will say more: in one who claims publicly—and makes no secret of being in direct and constant communication with, and the mouthpiece of, “Imperator”—a high Spirit—such a policy proves simply suicidal. For, who will dare deny—not any man of science, at any rate, or the same Journal of Science—that “M.A. (Oxon)’s” claims are certainly no more—(and strict logicians as well as an impartial jury may say far less)—demonstrable according to the laws of inductive science, or even judicial evidence, than our claims to an acquaintance and intercourse with living BROTHERS. Really our friend ought to abstain from throwing pebbles into his nearest neighbour’s premises. In both “M.A. (Oxon)’s” and my case, the object of proof—so difficult of demonstration—is the real, palpable, and undeniable existence of “Spirits” and “Brothers”; their respective claims (or rather those made by ourselves, their humble mouthpieces, on their behalf) to superior knowledge and powers, appearing but of secondary importance in this wholesale denial by the sceptical “Philistines” of their very being. Reviews are interesting, not merely because they show what our friends and enemies think of us, but also because they afford us a safe estimate of what opinion our critics hold of themselves. Such is the double benefit I derived by a perusal of “M.A. (Oxon)’s” note on the review of the Occult World by the Journal of Science. Not only do I perceive the correctness (to a certain extent) of the criticism of orthodox exact science—though feeling as sure that neither the discovery of a new planet or mineral would satisfy her sceptics but more than ever do I learn that it is idle to expect anything like fairness even from the most intelligent and friendly critics, once that their minds are biased and prejudiced by a series of misconceptions. With “M.A. (Oxon)’s” kind permission, I will, in my turn, review his strange review. There already appears in the present issue another letter, signed by five of the Chelas of our venerated MASTERS, against a series of criticisms from the same pen, directed against them, in Light. They perceive in this attitude of hostility simply the “effect of mediumship” and suspect “Imperator” of being no better than an Elemental Spirit, but I protest against this misconception and would never permit myself personally to throw suspicion or slur either upon “M.A. (Oxon)’s” personal good faith or that of his “control,” as he constantly does with regard to our “BROTHERS,” and the writer of the present. I will content myself, then, with simply quoting from his review and pointing out his strange attitude. He says:
“The Journal of Science has now completed a candid and temperate notice of Mr. Sinnett’s Occult World. The writer deals with the evidences of extraordinary power, such as the creation of the cup and saucer at Simla by Madame Blavatsky, fairly, and in a judicial spirit. He considers that the narrative must be accepted as a record substantially accurate of a real occurrence. He puts aside the supposition of an elaborate fraud as ‘literally bristling with difficulties,’ and arrives at the conclusion that ‘the cup and saucer were produced in the earth where found, by an agency to us inconceivable.’ This is a startling concession when it is considered from what quarter it comes. We are so accustomed to find the inexplicable or the unexplained treated by open science as the impossible, especially in the case of psychical phenomena, that this candid consideration of an antecedently incredible statement is as startling as it is welcome.”
So far this sounds pretty friendly, even though the admission of “M.A. (Oxon)” allows as good a handle against spiritualistic phenomena as it does to those of the Occultists. But soon the tone changes and the probable genuineness of the phenomena being conceded, their nature is taken to task.
“I entirely appreciate,” says “M. A. (Oxon),” “the words of the Reviewer when he points out that such feats, so like mere jugglery, are by no means the best evidence of superior knowledge. “Suppose the Brotherhood were to say: ‘Point your telescope to such and such a spot in the heavens, you will find a planet as yet unknown to you, having such and such elements,’ or ‘Dig into the earth in such a place and you will find a mineral containing a metal new to your science: its atomic weight, its specific gravity, etc., are so and so.’ Such or similar proofs, not of superior power but of higher knowledge, would not increase any man’s facilities for evil-doing.” Rather, I may add, would they increase the store of human knowledge, and prove incontestably the presence among us of some beings wiser and more beneficient than we. But, as the Reviewer points out, we search in vain for any such evidence. “Till some foot-hold of this kind is given us, it is useless to bid us join the Theosophical Society or change our ‘mode of life.’ Teachings so indefinite we are compelled to reject, not indeed ‘superciliously,’ but sadly.” It is impossible to find any reasonable fault with such an attitude. It is true that the Adept Brothers pose as men reluctant to open the door of knowledge to any but the most patient and persistent appeal made by one who has proved himself a worthy postulant. That is an attitude incompatible with some steps lately taken. Too much or too little has been said in their name, and the result is bewilderment and confusion.”
Such is the sentence passed on the BROTHERS, or rather on myself, their humble disciple. Now what would the average sceptic—who believes in neither “Imperator,” nor the “BROTHERS,” and who regards just as much “M.A. (Oxon)” as H. P. Blavatsky in the light of a hallucinated lunatic when not a wilful impostor,—what would a sceptic say to this? Outside the believers in Spiritualism and Occultism—a handful as compared to the bulk of mankind—any average sceptic would simply laugh at such a criticism when it emanates from a well-known Spiritualist, a medium who himself claims a personal communication with a “high spirit” and many minor ones. Can the Spiritualists point to any of their phenomena of a “higher” character than the few trifles kindly shown to the author of the Occult World? Have their mediums, the highest, the best of them, for the last forty and odd years of their activity, made any one single discovery that would benefit humanity or even science? Are the contradictory, conflicting bits of philosophy, kaleidoscopically exhibited by “Spirits” through mediums, one whit higher than that contained even in the few stray letters published in the Occult World? Has even “Imperator” proved himself in his teachings any higher or more philosophical or learned than Koot-Hoomi, and has he ever consented to appear before the “average Philistine” or to give an undoubted demonstration of his personal reality except, perhaps, in the presence of the very, very few—at any rate by far fewer than those who personally know our BROTHERS;—or finally, has even he, “Imperator,” that “great and wise spirit” who ought as such to be far more powerful and learned in the mysteries of undiscovered planets and minerals than the highest Adept-Occultist living—if the spiritualistic theory be true—has even he, I ask, ever benefited the world of science or the profane public, or even his own medium, by any great discovery, which, “increasing the store of human knowledge,” has proved him thereby—a being “wiser and more beneficient” than we “and the BROTHERS”? “M.A. (Oxon)’s” review is therefore a double-edged sword. While trying with one side of it to hit the BROTHERS and the Occultists, he simply cuts, and very badly too, himself and spiritualism with the other. Paraphrasing the words of the Reviewer and of “M.A. (Oxon)” I will close my remarks with the following:
“Till some foothold of this kind is given us,” it is useless to extol the “Spirits” and “Mediums” above the “BROTHERS” and their Occultists. The attitude of the former is truly “incompatible” with their forty years of ardent activity, and no results whatever; and, while we all know what the “Spirits” have hitherto been capable of, no Spiritualist is yet in a position to say what benefit may or may not befall the world through the “BROTHERS,” since they have but hardly appeared on the horizon. Patience, patience, good friends, and critics. “Bewilderment and confusion” are far more on your side than they are on ours and—qui vivra verra!