It is the fashion nowadays, with those who write about ideas which lie beyond the world of sense, to express opinion in very guarded terms. In contradistinction to the old priestly dogmatism, it has of late years been considered "good form" to handle these subjects in so tentative a manner as almost to imply agnosticism. It is a frame of mind that has eminently suited the time, and was a worthy set-off to the old superstitious intolerance.
But when a new revelation is bursting on the souls of men, when the error and the ignorance, alike begotten of the ancient superstition and the modern incredulity, are so powerful as to defy all but the best aimed shafts of the most cogent Reason, the tentative hesitation of the groper after Truth is no longer an appropriate attitude.
We have no desire to soar into the lofty region of metaphysics, where we are sure to be met with the assertion that truth about these ultimate realities never has been and never can be formulated or uttered by man. Let us content ourselves with the humbler elevation of practical ethics, and acknowledge that Truth is a relative term. To quote from a remarkable letter lately addressed to his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, "A religion is true in proportion as it supplies the spiritual, moral, and intellectual needs of the time, and helps the development of mankind in these respects. It is false in proportion as it hinders that development, and offends the spiritual, moral, and intellectual portion of man's nature. And the transcendentally spiritual ideas of the ruling powers of the Universe entertained by an Oriental sage would be as false a religion for the African savage as the grovelling fetishism of the latter would be for the sage, although both views must necessarily be true in degree, for both represent the highest ideas attainable by the respective individuals of the same cosmico-spiritual facts, which can never be known in their reality by man while he remains but man."
With this prelude let us attempt to form some just estimate of a remarkable and interesting book which has recently been published, Scientific Religion, by Laurence Oliphant. It is certainly in marked contrast to the style of writing commented on in the opening paragraph, — indeed it is refreshing to listen to such earnest utterances on subjects of the deepest interest. While expressing his sincerest attachment to the true Christian faith, no writer attacking the anti-Christian creeds of the churches could demolish the orthodox conceptions with more powerful or crushing arguments. The 22nd chapter, which deals with the interpretation of part of the Book of Revelation, is one which the orthodox would do well to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest." His remarks throughout the volume about the orthodox science of the day (for there is now an orthodoxy in this also!) are equally admirable. The following is a specimen. "But a blind belief in the superficial senses is as unsafe a guide to truth as a blind belief in a book. Science is as mole-eyed as theology, and yet to one or the other the whole civilized world trusts for enlightenment. No wonder that these two sets of blind guides, leading their blind followers, should stumble against each other in the dark and right furiously."
The new vital impulses descending on man are then dealt with. They are supposed to emanate from those inhabiting the Unseen Universe. Whatever opinions may be held on this subject — and opinion is today in a state of flux — the following may certainly be called an ingenious explanation. "Where there is scepticism in the human pneuma or inmost thought of the man, antipathetic atomic combinations are formed in his two external dielectrics, and interpose a hostile atomic element which encompasses the medium, and forms a barrier that the psychic force of the spiritual agent cannot penetrate. It is for this reason that physical manifestations are successful just in proportion as there is a strong faith-sentiment in the spectators, whose external dielectrics are then co-operating with the spiritual agent."
The remarks on the discoveries claimed by Mr. Keely too are so interesting as to deserve reproduction. "Mr, Keely has discovered that such a change can be effected by vibration, in the atoms of which the atmosphere is composed, that what he terms 'atmospheric disintegration' can be produced, which has the effect of liberating a subtle essence, the nature of which has still to be determined, and which he believes to be 'inter-atomic.' The energy it possesses is so great that it exercises a pressure of 25,000 lbs. to the square inch, and, in the engine which he has just constructed for traction purposes, develops a force of 250 horse-power. All this is achieved without the introduction of any extraneous motive power, the whole apparatus being so constructed that the liberation of this tremendous agency from its atmospheric prison-house can be effected by the vibrations produced by a tuning-fork. Those who are sufficiently unprejudiced to connect the bearings of this discover, of what must be dynaspheric force, with phenomena which have hitherto been regarded as supernatural by the ignorant, will perceive how rapidly we are bridging over the chasm which has always divided the seen from the unseen, and obliterating the distinction between what has erroneously been called matter, and what has no less erroneously been called spirit." Further on in the book it is significantly pointed out that this dynaspheric force with which Mr. Keely can operate on external substance is synonymous with the inter-atomic energy that produces the phenomena of hypnotism, telepathy, mediumship, and all such abnormal manifestations.
While differing in some points to a marked degree from the recognized theosophic teachings, the author nevertheless demonstrates that the source from which he has drawn his inspiration is conscious of many of the occult facts, — for instance, the androgynous or bisexual nature of primeval man; the highly attenuated character of matter which composed his frame, compared with the fleshly covering we now wear; the esoteric meaning hidden from the vulgar gaze in the Bible as well as in the Scriptures of all religions, and the consequent necessity of initiation in the mysteries; the mistaken notion of the popular mind as to the fundamental difference between spirit and matter: but it is needless to enumerate them further.
We now come to the great subject of which the whole book is a gospel, — the sympneumatic impulse, the descent of the Divine Feminine. Taken in the widest sense, the author's inspiration appeals to our highest reason, and we cannot but give approval to the general proposition that the far-off regeneration of the race will lie (amongst other things) in the reversion to the bisexual type of our prehistoric spiritual ancestors, — in other words, in the absolute quenching of the principle of lust, the double-faced goddess today worshiped, though in varying degrees, by all Humanity — by the votaries alike of marriage and of free-love. This will be an unpalatable way of stating the truth to many, for it is a view from a light which naturally seems to dwarf the difference between the virtuous world and those whom the virtuous world avoids touching with the hem of its garment.
But while assenting to the general proposition, there are details in the working out of the idea which do not appeal to our sense of truth. Writing in chapter 20 of one who is pursuing the upward path, he says, "She will know — not because it is to be found in the Bible — not because her reason suggests its truth, but because her physical organism forces the fact upon her, that she is the feminine half of a two-fold being, and that her completion consists in union with her masculine complement." And again in chapter 21, interpreting extracts from the Kabbalah, he refers to the sympneumatic descent, "for it will result in the union on earth of the halves hitherto divided, whereby man will regain his lost condition." This is no new idea either. Without going back to Plato (and we should probably err in ascribing to his deeply-veiled utterence the meaning that the words might naturally seem to imply), we find it unmistakably expressed in "Jocelyn," that touching story of Lamartine's, in the stanza which begins —
"Mon coeur me l'avait dit: toute ame est soeur d'uneame;
Dieu les crea par couples et les fit homme ou femme;
Le monde peut en vain un temps les separer,
Leur destin tot ou tard est de se rencontrer."
The completion of the at-present incomplete nature of man or woman by an ideal union must to many be a very fascinating thought, but instead of its being as it here purports to be, the explanation of the mystery of the differentiation of sex, is it not rather a perversion of the truth, the truth being that both man and woman have within each one the potency of both sexes, and in this consists their true equality, — in other words, that the Soul is bisexual, and is therefore capable of assuming and wearing either the male or the female form, and that its true apotheosis consists in its assertion of and its reversion to its real nature and Divine source.
Much that is written in this section of the book on the subject of woman's mission is admirable. Though the author is severe on the colleges for the higher education of women, which, he says, are "attractive to a certain class of the sex, but which are nurseries of hybrids which turn out an inferior species of man-woman," yet, as he truly points out, the degree in which they (women) compete, with more or less success, with men in the intellectual and executive battles of life is the degree to which they stunt and destroy their own higher faculties.
Of the truth of his inspiration generally, what shall we say? Each man must judge according to his own light which opinion and belief are our guides, and before we have risen to the heights necessary for directly cognising these facts of the Unseen Universe. While leaving those who are able to do so to deal critically with the detailed statements, and to discriminate between the interpretations of symbols and passages, many of which appear to be far-fetched, it seems to us generally that, while the learned and able author has received shreds and fragments of transcendental truth from the Astral World, the knowledge of the primary fact is wanting which would have been capable of discriminating between the teachings and of welding them all into one homogeneous whole, — we mean the doctrine of re-incarnation and the law of Karma, facts which are recognised as the basis of all the great Oriental religions, and which it is the shame and loss alike of Christendom and of Islam to have generally ignored, though traces of the truth are still to be found in the scriptures of the former, and though it is secretly acknowledged by the mystical followers of the latter.
The author also suggests that the attainment of a perfect human state by man while still he bears the body is a realizable possibility. A whole chapter is devoted to the subject of the formation of households which are gradually to realize this perfect state. But let the author speak for himself, though of course no short extract in this or in any other case can do full justice to the gradually elaborated idea of the author in his own work. "For as he labours thus side by side with his fellow-men, tilling, perhaps, the land, and ploughing deep furrows into his own soul, which are destined in good time to bring forth an abundant crop, he perceives that he is indeed laying the foundations of a reconstructed society; and a vista opens out to his charmed gaze of co-operative industries, harmonious communities, and a political system in which liberty, equality, and fraternity shall develop under the aegis of absolute authority, and in association with a hierarchy composed of such different degrees of rank as correspond to their fitness to enjoy it."
It must necessarily be with regret that criticism is allowed finally to replace approval of a book which contains so much that is excellent, and the lessons in which are so sadly needed by this self-satisfied and self-vaunting age of ignorance and error. But the unwarranted optimism implied in the above calls for comment; and, besides, there is an apparently wilful misunderstanding throughout the volume of some of the deepest and most occult truths, which recalls a similar though much less flagrant example of misunderstanding, viz: the exaltation of woman as the crown of the universe by the late Mrs. A. Kingsford in her and Mr. Maitland's work, The Perfect Way, or the Finding of Christ. If it is fair thus to cite a single blemish in a book of such exalted inspiration and remarkable value as the one just named, it may still stand as an example of the error which all psychics are specially liable to, who trust to "spirit-guides" apart from the true intuition of the well balanced nature, as well as from the ancient traditions of revealed authority.
(Concluded in March.)
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