In the Theosophical teachings there is a sevenfold classification of the animate kingdoms of Nature into Human, Beast, Plant, Mineral, and three Elemental kingdoms. If we regard the scientific view of Nature as complete, we shall necessarily regard these Elementals as a kind of addition to Nature, a kind of detached beings hovering around and interfering. But a true man of science knows how incomplete is the explanation of Nature which science has been able to supply; how full of gaps it is; how many assumptions have to be made as groundwork for the superstructure of scientific theory. To such people the existence of Elementals will seem rather to fill an unoccupied space; these beings might even be regarded as a necessary hypothesis. The scientific formulas are devised for practical purposes, in which they are very efficient. But such formulations are built upon certain data — things which are said to be "given." In geometry, for instance, we must assume such things as space, extension, and enumerate a list of axioms and postulates; after which we may proceed logically with our theorems and problems. But no attempt is made to prove these assumptions (at least within the limits of the system for which they were assumed). So in physics we assume attraction, motion, and various other things, undefined, or perhaps mutually defined in terms of each other. A workable universe can be built on matter and motion, but these two all-important things have to be assumed and left unexplained. In a word, science shows us how the universe (the physical universe, at least) works, but cannot explain how this universe comes to be alive and intelligent — which it obviously is.
Thus there is plenty of room for Elementals to fill this tremendous gap; and so far from being superfluous they are things we cannot do without. (1) The movements seen in matter have to be accepted without explanation of their cause; but after that they can be studied and their consequences formulated. Take for instance the movements of the molecules in a gas. From these can be deduced general laws relating to diffusion and pressure. But there is no explanation of why the particles should move. Again, while we can calculate the laws of magnetic attraction, we find no explanation of the cause of that attraction; and the same with gravitation. Attempts to explain attraction by some theory of pressures in a hypothetical fluid (or ether) are illogical, since they seek to explain the postulates in terms of the propositions deduced therefrom. Such an attempt merely confronts us with the original problem over again. Thus science has been obliged to use words as counters, standing for unrealized values; and they sometimes forget the entirely provisional nature of these assumptions — a mistake much more often committed by uninstructed people who attribute to scientists more wisdom than the scientists themselves claim.
There is no final escape from the conclusion that living beings are responsible for Nature's activity; nor yet from the conclusion that all life implies intelligence in greater or less degree. Evasions of this conclusion are merely temporary. The electron cannot be analyzed into anything but a living entity; we may say that it obeys "laws," but it is simpler to endow it with a modicum of intelligence and purpose, however lowly and instinctive.
It may be asked, Why do we not see the elementals? or alternatively, Do we see them? But after all it is merely the physical embodiment of beings that we see — that part of them which is correlated to our bodily senses. We cannot truly say that we see the animal or the plant, but only their physical encasement. As to the mineral kingdom, when scientists probe into its depths, they pass the confines of visibility. All that our physical senses can show us of the elementals is comprised or summed up in the visible forms of the beings, animal, plant, or mineral, into which they enter as constituents. Can we see what science calls a "force'? Or is it not rather the effects of force that we see?
Many things, well known to experience, but usually scoffed at, or met with an indulgent laugh, as superstitions, are explained when we take elementals into account. Some people seem to have a touch which benefits plants; other people seem to kill the flowers they handle. Workers may have quarrels with their tools, find a particular tool more responsive than another tool, object to letting other hands use their tools. Our typewriter, our razor, what not? may seem to have a sympathy with their owner. Similar instances will occur to the mind of the reader. These elemental creatures must needs be amenable to the superior influence of the human mind and feeling. The generality of us blunder blindly among these beings, creating unknown confusion. But the adept may learn how to handle them, as men can learn how to handle other laws of Nature, without violating those laws. Thus are produced "phenomena," sometimes wrongly called miracles or interferences with the laws of Nature.
1. In Isis Unveiled we read that Professor Le Conte specifies four kingdoms of Nature: Animal Kingdom, Vegetable Kingdom, Mineral Kingdom, Elements (I, 329). The Bhagavad-Gita says: "For the accomplishment of every work five agents are necessary, as is declared. These are the substratum, the agent, the various sorts of organs, the various and distinct movements, and with these, as fifth, the presiding deities." (Chapter xviii). (return to text)
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Occultism and the philosophy of the East, whether true absolutely, or relatively, are teachings coming to us from an immense antiquity: and since — whether in the writings and traditions of the East; in the numberless Fragments, and MSS. left to us by the Neo-Platonic Theosophists; in the life-observations of such philosophers as Porphyry and Iamblichus; in those of the medieval Theosophists and so on, ad infinitum; — since we find in all these, the same identical testimony as to the extremely various, and often dangerous nature of all those Genii, Demons, Gods, Lares, and "Elementaries," now all confused into one heap under the name of "Spirits'; we cannot fail to recognise in all this something "enduring the test of universal experience" and "coming unchanged" out of every possible form of observation and experience. — H. P. Blavatsky: "Thoughts on the Elementals," Lucifer, 1890.