What may be called the scientific age began (roughly) somewhere about the time of Francis Bacon, and has been characterized by a view which looked upon man as a being living in a world of dead matter and mechanical forces entirely external to himself. Whereas in other times this sharp separation between man and his world did not exist, but man was regarded as being part of nature, and nature was regarded as being alive, sentient, responsive. This view was regarded by the scientific age as superstitious, supernatural, poetic, sentimental.
We are now showing signs of a return to the older view. Whatever people's theories may be, their actual experience has never failed to give support to the older view. Certain people have a natural sympathy with certain objects, certain kinds of materials: it may be with plants and trees, it may be with wood or metal; or with fluids or chemicals or electricity or dry goods, or what not. These people are able to handle their materials and to evoke sympathetic response therefrom, where other people fail to do so. Such sympathies can be indicated by astrologers in the horoscope. Again, we find that we establish a sympathy or mutual understanding or friendship with our own tools — typewriter, razor, pen — and are reluctant to lend them for use by strange hands. We may be ashamed to speak of these things, and may treat the matter jocularly — the perversity of inanimate objects, and so forth; but nevertheless we are guided by them.
If it is the animal kingdom that is spoken of, then no one has any doubt that the animals respond sympathetically, so that one man may be able to handle dogs, horses, etc., and another not. Descending a degree we come to the plant kingdom. Some people can make anything grow anywhere; some people seem to have a deadly influence on plants. In the mineral kingdom, the world of so-called inanimate matter, the responsiveness there is even less, but still there is response; the question is one of degree, and there is nowhere that we can draw a sharp line.
Theosophists speak of elementals, without having particularly clear-cut ideas of what they mean. These are beings with a certain limited amount of intelligence, which operate in nature and are essential for the workings of things. They fit in very well in the gap left by the scientific explanation of the universe; for science measures the operations of forces but does not know the origin of the forces.
In this view, the material world ceases to be so much dead matter outside of ourselves, and becomes a member of the great family of living beings. We can get into sympathetic relation with it. There can be no doubt that, by living with a wrong idea of nature, we have thereby shut ourselves out from much knowledge; but it follows that, once we have begun to entertain a juster view, we shall enter a path that will reveal to us things we did not see before.