Spiritualism and Occult Truth
Theosophist, February, 1882
The Spiritualist of Nov. 18th takes notice of the article published in the THEOSOPHIST for October under the heading “Fragments of Occult Truth,” but it does not quite appreciate the objects with which that article was put forward, and still less the importance of its contents. To make further explanations intelligible to our own readers, however, we must first represent the Spiritualist’s present remarks, which, under the heading of “Speculation-Spinning,” are as follows:—
“The much-respected author of the best standard text-book on Chemistry in the English language, the late Prof. W. Allen Miller, in the course of a lecture at the Royal Institution, set forth certain facts, but expressed an objection to make known a speculative hypothesis which apparently explained the causes of the facts. He said that tempting but inadequately proved hypotheses, when once implanted in the mind, were most difficult to eradicate; they sometimes stood in the way of the discovery of truth, they often promoted experiments in a wrong direction, and were better out of the heads than in the heads of young students of science.
“The man who prosecutes original research must have some speculation in his head as he tries each new experiment. Such experiments are questions put to Nature, and her replies commonly dash to the ground one such speculation after another, but gradually guide the investigator into the true path, and reveal the previously unknown law, which can thenceforth be safely used in the service of mankind for all time.
“Very different is the method of procedure among some classes of psychologists. With them a tempting and plausible hypothesis enters the mind, but instead of considering it to be mischievous to propagate it as possessing authority before it is verified, it is thought clever to do so; the necessity for facts and proof is ignored, and it may be that a church or school of thought is set up, which people are requested to join in order that they may fight for the new dogma. Thus unproved speculations are forced upon the world with trumpet tongues by one class of people, instead of being tested, and, in most cases, nipped in the bud, according to the method of the man of science. 1
“The religious periodicals of the day abound with articles consisting of nothing but speculations advanced by the authors as truths and as things to be upheld and fought over. Rarely is the modest statement made, ‘This may explain some points which are perplexing us, but until the verity of the hypothesis has been firmly demonstrated by facts, you must be careful not to let it rest in your mind as truth.’ By ‘facts’ we do not necessarily mean physical facts, for there are demonstrable truths outside the realm of physics.
“The foregoing ideas have often occurred to us while reading the pages of the THEOSOPHIST, and have been revived by an interesting editorial article in the last number of that journal, in which the nature of the body and spirit of man is definitely mapped out in seven clauses. 2 There is not one word of attempt at proof, and the assertions can only carry weight with those who derive their opinions from the authoritative allegations of others, instead of upon evidence which they have weighed and examined for themselves; and the remarkable point is that the writer shows no signs of consciousness that any evidence is necessary. Had the scientific method been adopted, certain facts or truths would have been made to precede each of the seven clauses, coupled with the claim that those truths demonstrated the assertions in the clauses, and negatived all hypotheses at variance therewith.
“Endless speculation-spinning is a kind of mental dissipation, which does little good to the world or to the individuals who indulge therein, and has sometimes had in Europe a slight tendency to impart to the latter signs of Pharisaical self-consciousness of their being advanced religionists and philosophers, living in a diviner air than those who work to base their opinions on well-verified truths. If the speculators recognized their responsibility and imitated the example set them by the great and good Prof. Allen Miller, nine-tenths of their time would be set at liberty for doing good work in the world, the wasting of oceans of printing ink would be avoided, and mental energy which might be devoted to high uses would no longer run to waste. The minds of habitual dreamers and speculators may be compared to windmills incessantly at work grinding nothing. 3
“Just at present there is far too much mental speculation afloat, and far too few people putting good ideas into practical form. Here in London, within the past year, grievous iniquities which might have been prevented, and grievous wrongs which might have been redressed, have abounded, and too few people have been at work ameliorating the sorrows and the sins immediately around them.”
Now we do not want to discuss these questions with the Spiritualist in the way that rival religious sects might debate their differences. There can be no sectarianism in truth-seeking, and when we regard the spiritualists as seriously mistaken in many of the most important of the conclusions to which they have come, they must certainly be recognized as truth-seekers,—like ourselves. As a body, indeed, they are entitled to all possible honour for having boldly pursued their experiences to unpopular conclusions, caring more for what presented itself to them as the truth than for the good opinion of society at large. The world laughed at them for thinking their communications something beyond fraudulent tricks of impostors, for regarding the apparitions of their cabinets as visitors from another world. They knew quite well that the communications in a multitude of cases were no more frauds than they were baked potatoes, that people who called them such were talking utter folly, and in the same way that whatever the materialized “spirits” were, they were not in anything like all cases, even if they might be in some, the pillows and nightgowns of a medium’s assistant. So they held on gallantly, and reaped a reward which more than compensated them for the silly success of ignorant outsiders, in the consciousness of being in contact with superhuman phenomena, and in the excitement of original exploration. Nothing that has ever been experienced in connection with such excitement by early navigators in unknown seas, can even have been comparable to the solemn interest which spiritual enquirers (of the cultivated kind) must have felt at first as they pushed off, in the frail canoe of mediumship, out into the ocean of the unknown world. And if they had realized all its perils one might almost applaud the courage with which they set sail, as warmly as their indifference to ridicule. But the heretics of one age sometimes become the orthodox of the next, and, so apt is human nature to repeat its mistakes, that the heirs of the martyrs may sometimes develop into the persecutors of a new generation. This is the direction in which modern spiritualism is tending, and that tendency, of all its characteristics, is the one we are chiefly concerned to protest against. The conclusions of spiritualism, inaccurate and premature as they are, are settling into the shape of orthodox dogma; while the facts of the great enquiry, numerous as they are, are still chaotic and confused, their collectors insist on working them up into specific doctrines about the future state, and they are often as intolerant of any dissent from these doctrines as the old-fashioned religionists were of them.
In fact, they have done the very thing which the Spiritualist, with an inaptitude born of complete misapprehension of what occult science really is, now accuses us of having done—they have given themselves wholly over to “speculation-spinning.” It is fairly ludicrous to find this indictment laid at our door on account of our “Fragments.” The argument of that paper was to the effect that spiritualists should not jump to conclusions, should not weave hasty theories, on the strength of séance-room experiments. Such and such appearances may present themselves; beware of misunderstanding them. You may see an apparition standing before you which you know to be perfectly genuine, that is to say, no trumpery imposture by a fraudulent medium, and it may wear the outward semblance of a departed friend, but do not on that account jump to the conclusion that it is the spirit of your departed friend, do not spin speculations from the filmy threads of any such delusive fabric. Listen first to the wisdom of the ancient philosophies in regard to such appearances, and permit us to point out the grounds on which we deny what seems to be the plain and natural inference from the facts. And then we proceeded to explain what we have reason to know is the accepted theory of profound students of the ancient philosophy. We were repeating doctrines as old as the pyramids, but the Spiritualist, not having hitherto paid attention to them, seems really to imagine that we have thrown them off on the spur of the moment as a hypothesis, as Figuier does with his conjectures in “The Day after Death”, or Jules Verne with his, in his “Voyage Round the Moon”. We cannot, it is true, quote any printed edition of the ancient philosophies, and refer the reader to chapter and verse, for an article on the seven principles; but assuredly all profound students of mystic literature will recognize the exposition on which we ventured, as supported, now in one way, now in another, by the cautiously obscure teaching of occult writers. Of course, the conditions of occult study are so peculiar that nothing is more difficult than to give one’s “authorities” for any statement connected with it, but none the less is it really just as far from being “up in a balloon” as any study can be. It has been explained repeatedly that the continuity of occult knowledge amongst initiated adepts is the attribute about it which commends their explanations—absolutely to the acceptance of those who come to understand what initiation means, and what kind of people adepts are. From Swedenborg onwards there have been many seers who profess to gather their knowledge of other worlds from actual observation, but such persons are isolated, and subject to the delusions of isolation. Any intelligent man will have an intuitive perception of this, expressing itself in a reluctance on his part to surrender himself entirely to the assurances of any such clairvoyants. But in the case of regularly initiated seers it must be remembered that we are dealing with a long—an extraordinarily long—series of persons who, warned of the con fusing circumstances into which they pass when their spiritual perceptions are trained to range beyond material limits, are so enabled to penetrate to the actual realities of things, and who constitute a vast organized body of seers, who check each other’s conclusions, test each other’s discoveries and formulate their visions into a science of spirit as precise and entirely trustworthy as, in their humble way, are the conclusions, as far as they go, of any branch of physical science. Such initiates are in the position, as regards spiritual knowledge, that the regularly taught professor of a great university is in, as regards literary knowledge, and anyone can appreciate the superior claims of instruction which might be received from him, as compared with the crude and imperfect instruction which might be offered by the merely self- taught man. The initiate’s speculations, in fact, are not spun at all; they are laid out before him by the accumulated wisdom of ages, and he has merely followed, verified and assimilated them.
But, it may be argued, if our statement about the teachings of this absolutely trustworthy occult science claims to be something more than assertion and hypothesis, it is an assertion, and, for the world at large, an hypothesis, that any such continuously-taught body of initiates is anywhere in existence. Now, in reference to this objection, there are two observations to be made. Firstly, that there is a large mass of writings to be consulted on the subject, and just as spiritualists say to the outer world, “if you read the literature of spiritualism, you will know how preposterous it is to continue denying or doubting the reality of spiritual phenomena,” so we say to spiritualists, “if you will only read the literature of occultism it will be very strange if you still doubt that the continuity of initiation has been preserved.” Secondly, we may point out that you may put the question about the existence of initiates altogether aside, and yet find in the philosophy of occultism, as expounded by those who do labour under the impression that they have received their teaching from competent instructors, such inherent claims to intellectual adoption, that it will be strange if you do not begin to respect it as an hypothesis. We do not say that the “Fragments” given in our October number constitute a sufficiently complete scheme of things to command conviction, in this way, on their own intrinsic merits, but we do say that even taken by themselves they do not offend intuitive criticism in the way that the alternative spiritual theory does. By degrees, as we are enabled to bring out more ore from the mine which yielded the “Fragments,” it will be found that every fresh idea presented for consideration fits in with what has gone before, fortifies it, and is fortified by it in turn. Thus, is it not worth notice that even some notes we published in our December number in answer to enquiries about creation, help the mind to realize the way in which, and the materials with which, the elementaries in the one case, in the other the automatically acting Kama Rupa of the medium, may fashion the materialized apparition which the spiritualist takes for the spirit of his departed friend? It sometimes happens that a materialized spirit will leave behind as a memento of his visit some little piece cut from his spiritual (?) drapery. Does the spiritualist believe that the bit of muslin has come from the region of pure spirit from which the disembodied soul descends? Certainly no philosophically minded spiritualist would, but if as regards the drapery such a person would admit that this is fashioned from the cosmic matter of the universe by the will of the spirit which makes this manifest (accepting our theory so far), does it not rationally follow that all the “material” of the materialized visitor must probably be also so fashioned? And in that case, if the will of a spirit without form can produce the particular form which the sitter recognizes as his dead friend, does he not do this by copying the features required from some records to which, as a spirit, he has access; and, in that case again, is it not clear that some other “spirit” would equally have that power? Mere reflection, in fact, on the principles of creation will lead one straight to a comprehension of the utter worthlessness of resemblance in a materialized spirit, as a proof of identity.
Again, the facts of spiritual experience itself fortify the explanation we have given. Is it not the case that most spiritualists of long experience—omitting the few circumstanced in the very peculiar way that M.A. (Oxon) is, who are not in pursuit of dead friends at all—are always reduced sooner or later to a state of absolute intellectual exasperation by the unprogressive character of their researches. How is it that all these twenty years that spiritualists have been conversing with their departed friends their knowledge of the conditions of life in the next world is either as hazy still as the rambling imagination of a pulpit orator, or, if precise at all, grotesquely materialistic in its so-called spirituality? If the spirits were what the spiritualists think them, is it not obvious that they must have made the whole situation more intelligible than it is—for most people—whereas, if they are, what we affirm that they are really, is it not obvious that all they could do is exactly what they have done?
But, to conclude for the present, surely there need be no hostility, as some spiritual writers seem to have imagined, between the spiritualists and ourselves, merely because we bring for their consideration a new stock of ideas—new, indeed, only as far as their application to modern controversies is concerned, old enough as measured by the ages that have passed over the earth since they were evolved. A gardener is not hostile to roses because he prunes his bushes and proclaims the impropriety of letting bad shoots spring up from below the graft. With the spiritualists, students of occultism must always have bonds of sympathy which are unthought of in the blatant world of earth-bound materialism and superstitious credulity. Let them give us a hearing; let them recognize us as brother-worshippers of truth, even though found in unexpected places. They cannot prove so oblivious of their own traditions as to refuse audience to any new plea, because it may disturb them in a faith they find comfortable. Surely it was not to be comfortable that they first refused to swim with the stream, in matters of religious thought; and deserted the easy communion of respectable orthodoxy, happily trustful of the future state prescribed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and in the safe arrival there, if any one who takes a ticket for the right pew, as if it were a through carriage for Paradise without break of guage. Will Spiritualism only conquer incredulity only to find itself already degraded into a new church, sinking, so to speak, into arm-chairs in its second childhood, and no longer entitled to belief or vigorous enough for further progress? It is not a promising sign about a religious philosophy when it looks too comfortable, when it promises too indulgent an asylum for our speckled souls with hooris of the Mohammedan Elysium, or the all too homelike society of the Spiritualist’s “Summer-land.” We bring our friends and brethren in Spiritualism no mere feather-headed fancies, no light-spun speculation, when we offer them some toil-won fragments of the mighty mountain of occult knowledge, at the base of whose hardly accessible heights we have learned to estimate their significance and appreciate their worth. Is it asked why we do not spread out the whole scroll of this much vaunted philosophy for their inspection at once, and so exhibit clearly its all-sufficing coherence? That question at least will hardly be asked by thoughtful men who realize what an all-sufficient philosophy of the universe must be. As well might Columbus have been expected to bring back America in his ships to Spain. “Good friends, America will not come,” he might have said, “but it is there across the waters, and if you voyage as I have done, and the waves do not smother you, mayhap you will find it too.”
1. We do not want to be cruel, but where can one find “unproved speculations” more unproved, or that would be “nipped in the bud” by “the man of science” with a more ready hand than those that are weekly expressed in the Spiritualist?
2. The Theosophist, pp. 18, 19, October, 1881.
3. Verily so. For over thirty years have the dreamers and speculators upon the rationale of “spiritual” phenomena set their windmills to work night and day, and yet, hitherto, mortals and helping “spirits” have ground out for the world but—husks.