The Path – November 1893

CAN WE COMMUNICATE WITH THE DEAD? — Katharine Hillard

SOME REASONS AGAINST IT

In the course of last Tuesday night's discussion upon this subject, there was one point that might possibly bear further amplification, and that was the question of the means of such communication. The first question that would be asked about any distinguished Brahmin proposing to visit us would be, "Does he speak our language?" Otherwise he is to us a sealed book.

To carry this analogy a little further, I would ask you to consider the case of a man who should go to see the great actor Salvini in his drama called Civil Death. The playgoer comes home enraptured with the performance, wrought to enthusiasm by the unselfish character of the hero of the tragedy, a loving father who breaks his heart rather than interfere with the welfare of his child. The spectator, thrilled with the splendor of the man's sacrifice, feels that of all men he is the noblest, and he demands of the manager an introduction to the being who has so uplifted him. "But, my dear sir," replies the manager, "that hero you so much admire is the creature of a night; he is not a reality, but an illusion. The real man is Salvini, who plays this and many other parts, and I would present you to him with pleasure, only you do not speak his language, nor he yours, nor have we an interpreter capable of giving you any satisfaction." "But it is not Salvini, it is the man I saw on the stage last night that I want to talk with," says our friend. "And I tell you again," says the manager, "that that man was an illusion, and ceased to be when the actor who created him laid aside his costume and left the theatre."

Such a desire and such an attempt as this would seem to us very childish and very futile, but, after all, is it not precisely analogous to the behavior of those who try to communicate with the dead?

          "All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts."

But that "one man" is not the being we know, whose heroism attracts us or whose cowardice repels, but is the immortal entity we call the individual consciousness, the real Ego who, indeed, "in his time plays many parts." The man who has left us, and whom we so long to meet again, is but one of those "many parts" played by the Ego, who, when it leaves the body that we love, lays aside its costume and quits the theatre of life. That personality exists no longer; the Ego, the Mind that created and informed it, "home has gone, and ta'en its wages," to quote our greatest poet once more. It has thrown off the body, its more ethereal counterpart, the astral double, and the still more ethereal framework of its desires, its idiosyncracies, its passions; it is a pure Intelligence, it belongs to another state of consciousness than ours. Can we expect to communicate with it when we do not know a syllable of its celestial language? Even if we could be shown its astral double, that filmy counterpart of the outer body, and could that form be made to utter a few of the unmeaning platitudes that such forms have been heard to speak, could that give any satisfaction to the friend who knows that the mind is not there? Is there any consolation in looking at a dummy made up of our friend's old clothes?

If we accept and learn by heart the theosophic doctrine of the seven-fold nature of man, of what earthly use is that knowledge unless we make it part of our life, a lamp unto our feet? When Captain Cuttle consulted his oracle, Jack Bunsby, that astute old mariner always wound up his Orphic utterances with the remark, "The bearin's o' this observation lies in the application of it." Unless we apply what we have learned, what good is it to us? If we know that the personality is an illusion, like all the things of this world, that it is made up of the body, the astral double, the body of desire, and the principle of vitality, and that all these are necessarily impermanent and must pass away at death, what is there left to communicate with in this four-fold division which we are accustomed to call the lower quarternary? And if we know likewise that the Higher Triad, or the individuality, persists, we know that this eternal being consists of the three immortal parts called Spirit, Soul, and Mind, in ordinary parlance, and that all three form that Ego whose condition is so far above this plane of illusions that there can be between us no medium of communication, no common language in which we may converse. So Tennyson says:

"My old affection of the tomb,
     A past of stillness yearns to speak:
     Arise, and get thee forth and seek
A friendship for the years to come.
I watch thee from the quiet shore;
     Thy spirit up to mine can reach;
     But in dear words of human speech
We two communicate no more."

And here the poet, with a poet's intuition, has struck the same law that we have been told governs the "Kingdom of the Gods," or Devachan. That is, that under certain conditions a pure and lofty nature may pass into Devachan during life, and be drawn into communion with the disembodied spirit that can never descend to it. "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me," said David of his child, and it is true of all.

But here we must beware of allowing ourselves to think of disembodied existence in our terms of space and time. To the freed spirit there is no place, but only condition, and there is no reason why our loved ones who have passed from our sight should not be still near us, still loving us, and through the power of that love influencing our lives for good. "We are with those whom we have lost in material form," says the Key, "and far, far nearer to them now than when they were alive. . . . For pure divine love is not merely the blossom of a human heart, but has its roots in eternity. . . . And love beyond the grave has a magic and divine potency which reacts on the living."

The lesson of the theosophic teaching as to communication with the dead is, then, briefly this. That with their fleeting and illusionary personality it were a futile thing to seek such intercourse; but that to bring about the highest form of communion with those pure Intelligences who dwell now on another plane than ours, we must so elevate and purify our own lives and our own souls that while yet upon this earth we may be caught up into heaven and hear unspeakable words. It is Tennyson again who has expressed this so beautifully that you can bear to hear it once more, for none but a poet can say it half so well.

"How pure at heart and sound in head,
     With what divine affections bold,
     Should be the man whose thought would hold
An hour's communion with the dead.
In vain shalt thou, or any, call
     The spirits from their golden day,
     Except, like them, thou too canst say
My spirit is at peace with all.
They haunt the silence of the breast,
     Imaginations calm and fair,
     The memory like a cloudless air,
The conscience as a sea at rest:
But when the heart is full of din,
     And doubt beside the portal waits,
     They can but listen at the gates,
And hear the household jar within."

The Path

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