This series originally appeared in the French magazine La Revue Theosophique, 1889, under the title "Le Phare de L'Inconnu." One of H. P. Blavatsky's most brilliant articles, it presents a clear statement of the meaning of true Theosophy in theory and in practice. In this number the author shows her ability to cope with the many detractors of Theosophy existing in her day. Here we have H. P. B. not as the amanuensis of one of the Mahatmans, but wielding her lively pen in her own right as a recognised literary artist, with all the skilled sword-play in which she delighted — so long as it was in defense of her beloved Theosophy. This series first appeared in translation in The Theosophist, Volume X.
Do our amiable critics always know what it is they ridicule? Have they the least idea of the work that is being carried on in the world, and the mental changes that are being brought about by that Theosophy at which they smile? The progress already due to our literature is evident, and thanks to the untiring labors of a certain number of Theosophists, it is becoming recognised even by the blindest. There are not a few who are persuaded that Theosophy will be the philosophy and the law, if not the religion, of the future. The reactionaries, captivated by the dolce far niente of conservatism, feel all this, and from them come the hatred and persecution which call in criticism to their aid. But criticism has fallen away from its original standard as inaugurated by Aristotle. The ancient philosophers, those sublime ignoramuses according to modern civilization, when they criticised a system or a work, did so with impartiality, and with the sole object of bettering and making more perfect that which they were critically examining. First they studied the subject, and then they analysed it. This was a service rendered, and was recognised and accepted as such by both parties. Does modern criticism always conform to that golden rule? It is very evident that it does not.
Our judges of today are far below the level even of the philosophical criticism of Kant. Criticism based on unpopularity and prejudice has replaced that of "pure reason," and the result is that the critic tears to pieces everything he does not understand, and above all those things that he is not willing to understand. In the last century — the golden age of the goose quill — criticism was biting enough sometimes, but only in rendering justice. Caesar's wife might be suspected, but she was never condemned without being heard. In our century we give Montyon (1) prizes and erect public statues to him who invents the most murderous engine of war; today when the steel pen has replaced its more humble predecessor, the fangs of the Bengal tiger or the teeth of the terrible saurian of the Nile would make wounds less cruel and less deep than does the steel nib (bec) of the modern critic, who is almost always absolutely ignorant of that which he so savagely tears to shreds!
It is perhaps some consolation to know that the majority of our literary critics, trans-atlantic and continental, are ex-scribblers who have made a fiasco in literature and are revenging themselves now for their mediocrity upon everything they come across. Cheap, insipid and adulterated wine often turns into excellent vinegar. Unfortunately the press reporters in general — poor hungry devils whom we would be sorry to grudge the little they make, even at our own expense — are not our only or our most dangerous critics. The bigots and the materialists — the sheep and goats of religion — having placed us in turn in their index expurgatorius, our books are banished from their libraries, our journals are boycotted, and ourselves subjected to the most complete ostracism. One pious soul, who accepts literally the miracles of the Bible, following with emotion the ichthyographical investigations of Jonas in the whale's belly, or the trans-ethereal journey of Elijah flying like a salamander in his chariot of fire, nevertheless regards the Theosophists as wonder-mongers and cheats. Another, the devotee of Haeckel, while he displays a credulity as blind as that of the bigot in his belief in the evolution of man and the gorilla from a common ancestor (considering the total absence of every trace in nature of any connecting link, nearly dies with laughter when he finds that his neighbor believes in occult phenomena and psychic manifestations. And yet for all that, neither the bigot nor the man of science, nor even the academician who has been admitted to the number of the "Immortals," can explain to us the smallest problem of existence. The metaphysicians who for centuries have studied the phenomena of Being in their first principles, and who smile pityingly when they listen to the wanderings of Theosophy, would be greatly embarrassed to explain to us the philosophy or even the cause of dreams. Which of them can tell us why all the mental operations — except reasoning, which faculty alone is suspended and paralysed — go on while we dream with as much activity and energy as when we are awake? The disciple of Herbert Spencer would send anyone who asks him the direct question, to the biologist. But he cannot satisfy us at all; for him digestion is the alpha and omega of every dream — just as hysteria, that great Proteus of a thousand forms, is the actor in every psychic phenomenon. Indigestion and hysteria are, in fact, twin sisters, two goddesses, to whom the modern psychologist has raised an altar at which he himself is the officiating priest. But that is entirely his own affair so long as he does not meddle with the gods of his neighbors.
From all this it follows that, since the Christian characterizes Theosophy as the "accursed science" and forbidden fruit; since the man of science sees nothing in metaphysics but "the domain of the crazy poet" (Tyndall); since the reporter touches it only with poisoned forceps; since the missionaries associate it with idolatry and "the benighted Hindu" — it follows, we say, that poor Theosophia is as shamefully treated as she was when the ancients called her Truth and at the same time relegated her to the bottom of the well. Even the "Christian" Kabbalists, who love so much to mirror themselves in the dark waters of this deep well, although they see nothing there but the reflexion of their own faces, which they mistake for that of Truth — even the Kabbalists make war upon us. Nevertheless, all this is no reason why Theosophy should not speak in its own defense; that it should cease to assert its right to be listened to, and that its faithful and loyal servants should neglect their duty and declare themselves beaten. "The accursed science," you say, good Ultramontanes? You forget though, that the tree of knowledge is grafted on the tree of life; that the fruit which you declare "forbidden," and which you have proclaimed for sixteen centuries to be the cause of the original sin that brought death into the world — that this fruit, whose flower blossoms on an immortal stem, was nourished by that same trunk, and that therefore it is the only fruit which can insure us immortality. You also, good Kabbalists, ignore, or wish to ignore, the fact that the allegory of the earthly paradise is as old as the world, and that the tree, the fruit and the sin had once a far profounder and more philosophic significance than they have today when the secrets of initiation are lost.
Protestantism and Ultramontanism are opposed to Theosophy because they are opposed to everything not emanating from themselves; as Calvin opposed the replacing of its two fetishes, the Jewish Bible and the Sabbath, by the Gospel and the Christian Sunday; as Rome opposed secular education and Freemasonry. However, the Dead-letter and Theocracy have had their day. The world must move and advance under penalty of stagnation and death. Mental evolution progresses pari passu with physical evolution, and both advance towards the One Truth — which is the heart of the human system as evolution is the blood. Let the circulation stop for one moment and the heart cease also, and what becomes of the human machine!
And these are the servants of Christ who would kill or at least paralyse the Truth with blows from that club called: "the letter that killeth!" But their end is nigh. That which Coleridge said of political despotism applies also to religious. The Church, unless she withdraws her heavy hand, which weighs like a nightmare on the oppressed bosom of millions of believers — believers nolens volens — whose reason remains paralysed in the clutch of superstition, the ritualistic Church is sentenced to yield its place to religion — and perish. Soon she will have but one choice. Because, once the people become enlightened concerning the truth which she hides with so much care, one of two things will happen: the Church will either perish by the people; or else, if the masses are left in ignorance and in slavery to the dead letter, she will perish with the people. Will the servants of eternal Truth — out of which Truth they have made a squirrel turning in an ecclesiastical wheel — will they show themselves sufficiently altruistic to choose the first of these alternative necessities? Who knows?
I say it again: it is only Theosophy, well understood, that can save the world from despair, by reproducing the social and religious reforms once accomplished in history by Gautama the Buddha: a peaceful reform, without one drop of blood spilt, each one remaining in the faith of his fathers if he chose. To do this nothing is necessary but to reject the parasitical growths that have choked every religion and sect in the world. Let him accept but the essence, which is the same in all: that is to say, the spirit which gives life to man in whom it resides and renders him immortal. Let each man who is inclined towards well-doing find his ideal — a star before him to guide him. Let him follow it, without ever deviating from his path; and he is almost certain to reach the beacon-light of life — Truth: no matter whether he seeks for it in a manger or at the bottom of a well.
1. Prizes instituted in France during the last century by the Baron de Montyon for those who benefited others in various ways. — Ed (return to text)