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The craze to obtain superphysical powers, so apparent today, is nothing new. Nor is the appearance of such powers a recent evolutionary development. The literature of every people is full of references, historical as well as fictional, to certain individuals who can do things of a "magical" character, which the laws of physical science, known today, do not explain.
Such persons may be able to talk with "spirits": they hear phantom voices and see visions, and often think they are guided by angelic beings. They may be able to conjure up visions of the past, or of things happening at a distance, or they can foretell the future. Sometimes they are able to override the normal laws of nature by handling red-hot coals and similar things without being burned. Sometimes they are able under trance to draw and write things that are ordinarily quite beyond their capacities. Others may have the power of exerting a sort of enchantment or fascination over their fellows and of making these latter do their bidding; or they can heal the sick by the "laying on of hands," and in other ways.
It is noted that in the presence or atmosphere of a certain type of such individuals strange happenings take place. "Raps" and other sounds may be heard that are caused by no known agency; or there are the ringing of bells and sounds of musical instruments. Furniture perhaps moves of itself, and other household objects become disarranged. There may appear in the air what seem to be human hands and faces and ultimately complete figures.
The above examples, and many others that might be enumerated, are all included under the general category of psychic powers. In their essential nature these powers are not evil, though they vary widely in quality, ranging from those which are closely associated with our physical nature to those which work more closely with our spiritual nature.
Then, too, religious belief and custom has always profoundly affected the status of such powers, and it seems likely that their development along lower or higher lines has run parallel with, and has been a fundamental part of, the growth and influence of religion among the people. For instance, at a time when the Mysteries were still influencing the life of ancient Greece, a high type of clairvoyant was used in the sacred oracles, the priestess on the tripod being considered holy, and cherished and protected from contamination of any sort. The temples of Aesculapius in Greece, where the art of healing was highly developed, and where the most remarkable cures were performed, were a recognized part of the Mysteries themselves.
On the other hand, during the Dark Ages in Europe most unwholesome types of "psychic epidemics" occurred, connected in some cases with sorcery. And as late as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries psychics were still believed to be witches and were put to death by the Church.
There are, in fact, certain cyclic periods in history when there occur unusual outcroppings of these psychic manifestations. At such times the numbers of these abnormal individuals increase. Others through curiosity and the element of wonder are carried along on the psychic wave. The whole matter is given undue importance and an emphasis which almost always reacts harmfully upon those thus engaged, because they are ignorantly invoking strange forces which they cannot control. We are at the present time in such a cycle. It is with this cycle that we are particularly concerned: how it is affecting Western people, and what light theosophy throws upon the whole matter.
The present cycle started in the middle of last century with the rise of modern Spiritualism. The movement spread like an epidemic, first through America and later to some extent in the European countries. About this time there had been a growing interest in cures effected by means of hypnotism, and combined with new possibilities these experiments suggested, the spiritualistic movement was welcomed as a new revelation. Reputed clairvoyants developed into mediums, "spirit circles" were formed in many families, and it was obvious that a great many people were rushing headlong into experimentation and practices whose dangers they little dreamed of.
Already by the last quarter of the century much harm had been done, both in the disastrous effect on mediums themselves, and in the tremendous interest that had been aroused in every and any sort of abnormal power. A glamour had been cast over it all and many were feverishly hunting after the most unwholesome sorts of inner development with complete ignorance of the nature of what they were after.
Part of the mission of the Theosophical Society, founded in 1875, was to call a halt to this mad rush for phenomena and powers. This was to be done principally in two ways:
(a) By trying to illumine human hearts and minds with a spiritual light which so far transcended the will-o'-the-wisp flickerings of psychism, that the latter would lose their fascination.
(b) By presenting a scientifically sound rationale of these lower powers, thereby giving logical and convincing proof, first, of the existence of such powers, and second, of their extreme danger.
It was in this cause that H. P. Blavatsky, when she first came to America in 1873, had been instructed to work with the Spiritualists (see H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement, by C. J. Ryan, chapters 5 and 6). In her own words:
I am here in this country sent by my Lodge on behalf of Truth in modern spiritualism, and it is my most sacred duty to unveil what is, and expose what is not.But beyond a certain point they were not willing to accept her explanations of phenomena based on the ancient wisdom which she had been taught. Many of them even repudiated her, and thereby they lost a valuable champion and gave up the opportunity offered to them to put their experimentations upon a sound basis and at the same time satisfy the natural human longing for evidence of post-mortem survival.
There was, further, the counter-current of materialism that had to be reckoned with. While the simple-minded, as well as others of a mystical type, were being sucked into the psychic vortex, the great army of the skeptics saw in these manifestations only trickery and hallucination; and since both these factors are abundantly found in the annals of Spiritualism, the skeptics had a pretty good case.
The situation was a difficult and peculiar one because the psychic demonstrations which, it had been hoped, would jolt a materialistic world into an awakening to a wider outlook, got out of hand, so to speak. Since the group of Spiritualists had become utterly useless as an instrument for serious study, H. P. Blavatsky herself, under the direction and often with the aid of her teachers, was then instructed to give proof of her own supernormal powers (a description of these may be found in much of the early theosophical literature, as for instance The Occult World by A. P. Sinnett). Her purpose in this was to show the skeptics that beyond their circumscribed sphere of physical matter was an invisible world operating under its own unerring laws which, for one who understood them, could be made to act with definite and demonstrable results. Further, as W. Q. Judge says, she exhibited these marvelous feats
for the purpose of showing those who were learning from her that the human subject is a complicated and powerful being, not to be classed, as science loves to do, with mere matter and motion. -- The Path, vol. 8, May, 1893Blavatsky was bitterly disappointed in the general attitude of the scientists towards her entirely disinterested efforts. Writing in her magazine Lucifer, in February, 1888, she says:
Never were the phenomena presented in any other character than that of instances of a power over perfectly natural though unrecognised forces, and incidentally over matter, possessed by certain individuals who have attained to a larger and higher knowledge of the Universe than has been reached by scientists and theologians, or can ever be reached by them, by the roads they are now respectively pursuing. Yet this power is latent in all men, and could, in time, be wielded by anyone who would cultivate the knowledge and conform to the conditions necessary for its development.
Therefore, it is hardly to be wondered at, that word came to abandon phenomena and let the ideas of Theosophy stand on their own intrinsic merits.
When the mahatmas who started the Theosophical Society were urged to cause a newspaper published in India to appear in London on the day of publication, or vice versa, to convince the skeptics once for all, their answer came:
Very true, we work by natural not supernatural means and laws. But as on the one hand Science would find itself unable (in its present state) to account for the wonders given in its name, and on the other, the ignorant masses would still be left to view the phenomenon in the light of a miracle; everyone who would thus be made a witness to the occurrence would be thrown off his balance and the results would be deplorable. — The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, Letter No. 1
They declined to perform the experiment, pointing out further that, on the one hand, no phenomena, however startling, would ever convince the skeptics; and on the other hand, that in order to prevent superstitious practices arising, a healthy element of doubt should be preserved. Further, as greater and greater proofs would be demanded, the mahatmas themselves would end by finding themselves on the point of breaking the unalterable esoteric law, namely, that the secrets of the occult arts shall never be divulged except to those who have undergone the most strict and thorough discipline in their own schools of training.
It is now more than a century since H. P. Blavatsky brought her spiritual message to the West, and we are seeing evidences of its infiltration into the general thought-world, which is turning men's minds away from materialism. But much remains to be done in educating people as to the dangers of psychism. We are opening upon a new cycle which will see the progressive development of new faculties in man. As the human race advances it will inevitably become more finely organized both physically and psychically, and will come gradually more and more in contact with forces, powers, and beings that belong to a more subtle plane of existence. What theosophy has to give in the way of explanation and preparation is needed right now as the introduction to a new cycle of development.
The nature of the psychic powers and faculties cannot be understood without a comprehension of certain basic conceptions. These are as necessary as charts are in sailing an unfamiliar sea.
First we must dismiss the idea that anything can be brought about by supernatural means. No divine being can suspend the working of natural law. On the other hand, neither can we say with the materialists that everything can be explained by the laws of physical nature alone.
The teaching of the ancient wisdom is that there is indeed more to the universe than can be measured by our physical senses — or by our laboratory researches, which are but an extension of the powers of our sensory perceptions. Our physical universe is but a reflection of a vast and invisible realm, filled full with many grades of conscious living beings. It is their combined activities which bring about what we call the laws of nature, but which might better be called the habits of nature.
Mankind forms one group of these invisible entities — because, after all, the conscious thinking self of us is invisible. The portion of the universe that we call visible is merely that aspect of it for which we have developed organs of perception: the eye, the ear, and so on. Those aspects of the universe that we cannot perceive with our senses are not far away, in some distant stretches of space, but are right with us here and now, interpenetrating our physical sphere and impinging upon our inner selves at every moment of the day and night.
It is a mistake to suppose that invisibility necessarily implies spirituality. Assuredly spiritual energies have their source in the unseen realms of nature, but evil energies do likewise. The physical world is like a great arena for the enactment of the pageant of life, which we as human beings are at one and the same time taking part in and beholding. But this gorgeous and sometimes very tragic presentment only feebly depicts the unseen forces, both exalted and degraded, which move the actors to noble or to sordid deeds.
THE ASTRAL LIGHT
Those substances and energies of invisible nature impinging most closely upon our physical sphere are known in theosophy under the general term the astral light. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that its grosser portions thus impinge upon our sphere; for in its highest reaches it merges indefinitely into the purest cosmic aether, the source of all intelligence in the universe. The astral light surrounds and interpenetrates our globe as an ethereal essence, so sensitive and plastic that it receives and retains in its subtle substance an impression of all that takes place on earth, and of all the thoughts and emotional energies emanated by man. But it is more than a photographic plate, a mere recorder. It is a great crucible
in which all the emanations of the earth, whether psychical, moral, or physical, are received, and after undergoing therein a myriad of ethereal alchemical changes are radiated back to the Earth . . . thus producing epidemic diseases, whether these latter be physical, psychic, or moral.. — G. de Purucker, The Esoteric Tradition, 3rd & rev. ed., p. 513
There is, in fact, a constant interchange between what we call the physical plane and the astral plane. No sharp dividing line exists between the finest grade of physical matter and the densest grade of astral substance. The one merges into the other as naturally as dark night merges into dawn. This fact, with all that it implies, plays a large part in the explanation of the phenomena of memory, hallucination, emotional "complexes," psychoses, and dozens of other problems of mind and consciousness that puzzle psychologists. And it has to be reckoned with in the study of every aspect of psychism. The psychic waves that sweep over portions of the earth at cyclic times are caused, we are told, when through certain stresses and tensions in the earth's constitution, the protecting veils between the two planes grow thin, and contact with these finer substances is more easily made by peculiarly constituted individuals.
One of the chief characteristics of the astral light is its deceptive quality. Its whirling and eddying currents, its confused jumble of pictures, and its irresponsible as well as often evil denizens, bewilder and lead astray all but the highly trained seer. The ordinary person is not developed along the lines that would allow him a safe entry into these realms. Nor does the mere ability to enter them guarantee one's safety therein.
THE NATURE OF THE PSYCHE
Man, like the universe, has an inner nature ranging from the purely astral to the highest spiritual. For convenience we here reproduce a diagram showing this complex nature.
The monad (atman and buddhi) represents that high spiritual source of all that is noble and inspiring in our human existence. The lower three principles in the diagram (prana, linga-sarira, sthula-sarira) are the human body, both astral and physical, and the vitality that courses through them as long as our life on earth lasts. But what we are particularly concerned with for our present study is the intermediate portion of the diagram, for it is the seat of the ordinary individual, made up of mind (manas) and emotions (kama).
The Greeks sometimes called this part of us the psyche, and it is from this root that words such as psychic, psychism, and psychology have been formed. The use of this Greek root is accurate because the studies with which these words are associated all deal with the nature of the psyche: its relation to the body-part of man and to his spiritual nature, as well as to the world about him, including the astral light.
As a little study will show, our diagram suggests that mind partakes of the spiritual nature of its parent above, and forms with it the higher triad. Further, that desire when linked with the body-part of us forms a lower group of four, the lower quaternary. But what makes us as we are today is the union of manas and kama. It is this duad that holds the key position in our present evolutionary make-up. It is for this duad that life on earth is necessary, and its dual aspect explains the many contradictions, surprises, and disappointments of human nature.
This duad is the seat of our psychical nature. Our psyche is thus an undeveloped being. It has the use of all the powers of the human constitution to carve for itself a glorious destiny — will, imagination, thought, desire — but as yet it has not learned how to use them with wisdom. Its character is unstable. It is torn between its urge to understand and interpret through its own powers the will of its spiritual parent; and on the other hand its urge to identify itself with the animal nature below. It is drawn hither and thither by the attractions of the senses. Its purposes are divided. It is in fact that familiar part of ourself which needs no description.
In the normal, healthy individual this "conflict" is a natural stimulus to achievement. There is harmony and symmetry of development. Health means "wholeness," and where psychic health exists one finds those characteristics that belong to the well-balanced person: poise, clarity of thought, firmness of purpose, a sense of proportion, often a sense of humor tempered by a natural kindly feeling. We have in fact what is often spoken of as a well-adjusted personality.
Psychic ill-health occurs when the harmonious working of all the factors in man is broken. This often occurs when the psyche attempts to assume a position in the general economy of the human being to which it is not entitled; and there is little doubt that, could we see the chain of circumstances through several lives perhaps that lead up to our present psychic ills, we should find that somewhere along the way we had, perhaps by imperceptible degrees, built up the condition we now are trying to overcome.
The particular phase of psychic ill-health that we are concerned with here is that serious aspect shown by many people who possess what are called psychic powers. In the ordinary medium, for instance, there is always an actual dislocation of the psyche. The danger of this state will be discussed in a later chapter; suffice it to say here that the involuntary disjunction of this intermediate principle is never a desirable thing, for it makes the unfortunate individual the prey of evil entities in the astral light which crave a vicarious existence on earth as a means to satisfy their unfulfilled desires. Though purity and natural goodness do act to a certain extent as a protection to the medium, still there is likely to be a progressive deterioration in the medium's character, and his weaknesses, however mild, may prove to be the entering wedge for undesirable astral visitants to control him.
THE ASTRAL SENSES
Our true self has been evolving appropriate vehicles for growth and experience through long ages, and our inner economy is most marvelously regulated. Our spiritual nature provides us with the power to develop and express in ever greater degree our latent faculties. Our body serves as a means of contact with the outside world and with our fellows. It further acts as a protection, a barrier as it were, to the inroads of the astral plane. Our senses act in a selective and limiting way, and this is as much a blessing as it is an inconvenience. Until we are unaffected, at least in some degree, by the influences penetrating by means of our senses to our psychic nature, it were foolish to wish for this barrier to be broken. Yet this is what happens with those who crave to possess psychic powers. The ordinary person is to a certain extent imprisoned within his body. The psychic is in danger of breaking this guard, and finding himself in a realm where he is more or less helpless.
The fact is that for every one of our physical senses we have an astral counterpart which is the true center of sense perception. It is through these astral centers that the ego within really hears, sees, tastes, and touches. Without them, the physical senses would be useless. But at present these astral sense-centers are in their turn dependent upon their physical replicas. We cannot use them consciously and independently as yet. This will come in the future as a further stage of development. When that time comes it will be natural for us to use these astral senses at will, and then we shall know at first hand a great deal about the inner aspects of the universe which are now hidden from us. We must wait, however, until "the inner man has grown to maturity," as W. Q. Judge expresses it (Culture of Concentration).
This sort of thing fascinates the average person; but there is nothing more magical about it than the fact that now we can look into the heavens at night and catch with our physical eye the light that started from the stars perhaps millions of years ago — a marvel truly!
This future development of the astral senses is but a phase of a greater power that is to be ours: that of being able through conscious will and thought to travel where we will in a refined "astral body" of our own making, free from the burden of the "too too solid flesh." It was such a power that Apollonius of Tyana used when he suddenly vanished before the very eyes of Domitian and the crowd gathered at his trial in Rome, and appeared before his friend an hour later at the grotto of Puteoli (see Isis Unveiled 2:597).
Those who advertise to teach for a price the power of roaming at will in the astral have no idea of the difficulties involved, nor of the dangers they invite where even a partial success may be attained. There are also those who profess to know such dangers, but who do not sufficiently warn against them.
Psychics at the present time shadow forth this power that is to be ours in the distant future. They are not symmetrically developed, however, nor do they know anything about the true nature of their prematurely awakened ability. They may have one astral sense partially developed, as for instance the astral left eye or right eye; such being the case of the ordinary clairvoyant. Or they may be able to extend an astral arm, as some mediums do. But what they are able to see or sense is always one-sided, scrappy, and misleading; and as the power is used involuntarily, they have no guarantee that they can stop it when they will.
The theosophist does not consider it a fortunate thing for persons at the present time to have abnormally developed astral senses. It is in nearly all cases an affliction. It is always a responsibility.
It is necessary to study the subject of psychism in order to put the matter entirely on a rational basis. Too often the word "psychic" is veiled in a sort of mysterious atmosphere which enhances its attractions. People speak of having psychic experiences as though they were set apart from the ordinary run of mortals in some special, favored way. Or they have a dread of the very mention of the word, saying that it conjures up in their minds a host of vague terrors. Neither of these attitudes is desirable. One might as well be a rank materialist, scoffing at the very idea of the existence of invisible worlds, as to hold these false notions that cloud the understanding and lead one astray.
As a matter of fact, when we speak of the psychic world, we simply mean that invisible realm where our lower mind naturally functions. Here our psychic nature is active all the time; and it is this very psychic nature that provides us the means by which we can act on this physical plane. To be sure it is the seat of temptation and desire, of mental and emotional illusion; but it can also, when trained and controlled, be the transmitter of the vitality of the spiritual self into active expression in daily life. Nay, more, it is the only means the spiritual self has of functioning here on earth.
The abnormal development of the psychic nature, producing what are generally understood as the psychic powers, would be recognized, like all abnormalities, to be a mere side issue, if its nature and development were studied today as once they were studied in the ancient science of psychology, which H. P. Blavatsky speaks of as "the most important branch of the Occult Sciences" (Studies in Occultism).
The subject of psychology does not rightfully belong under the heading of psychic powers; rather should we say that the study of psychic powers rightfully belongs under the heading of psychology, as a branch of the general subject.
Some scientific investigators of psychic matters have evidently held the same view. In a letter to Sir William Crookes written in 1871, E. W. Cox says, in discussing the mysterious powers that "sensitives" possess:
I venture to suggest that the force be termed the Psychic Force; the persons in whom it is manifested in extraordinary power Psychics; and the science relating to it Psychism, as being a branch of Psychology.
Psychology is defined as "the science of the nature, functions, and phenomena of the human soul or mind." But H. P. Blavatsky gives a more inclusive and therefore more accurate meaning in Isis Unveiled (1:xxvii-xxviii):
Psychology, or the great, and in our days, so neglected science of the soul, both as an entity distinct from the spirit and in its relations with the spirit and body.
It is obvious, then, that every conceivable aspect of our make-up and activity, other than those aspects which are purely physiological (and it is a question whether there are any that could come under that category), could logically be included in some branch of the science of psychology.
But modern psychologists are just beginning the great task of developing a science; and they have limited themselves right from the start by trying to do away with the terms "soul" and "mind": the first, because as scientists they do not feel justified in entering the realms of metaphysics; the second, in an attempt to avoid the ever-puzzling problem of the relation of mind to matter. Descartes, it will be remembered, laid down the principle that mind and matter are two opposing substances having absolutely nothing in common. The modern psychologist prefers to think of the human being as a body-mind unity — a theosophical concept also when freed from any materialistic implications. Instead of "the science of mind," he prefers to speak of "the science of individual experience." On this basis he tries to analyze such phenomena as sensation, emotion, memory, imagination, aesthetic feelings, desire, understanding, belief, and all types of thought processes.
As a simple example: the ordinary person is not concerned with an explanation of his reactions to outward stimuli. For him there is no mystery in the fact that a gun-shot will make him start; that he finds certain kinds of music pleasing, and others not; or that an almost-forgotten tune may bring such a rush of unpleasant memories that he is put in a gloomy mood for the rest of the day. But the psychologist is concerned with the explanation of these things. He does not take them for granted. He wants to know why.
The effect of the gun-shot may undoubtedly be explained purely physiologically. But can the other two reactions? What, exactly, are moods? What are memories? Have they, indeed, any real existence? When the psychologist banishes any soul or mind from his scheme, any inner entity which experiences, he is hard put to it to explain even such simple reactions as the above. He must find some other explanation for obvious functions of mind and soul. The various schools of theoretical psychology have thus elaborated the most complicated systems and developed a difficult and highly technical terminology to explain the simplest phenomena of experience.
But whatever terms are used, the idea of an ego or self is implicit in all systems except the most materialistic. Some such conception is continually cropping up. The banished ego slips in by a back door and has to be reckoned with. As a matter of fact it is often only a sort of "temporary" ego that is postulated, a result of the interaction of brain and body. Little or nothing is known about the spiritual genealogy of the true egoic center in man and its progressive development through many lives on earth, bringing into each life what it had made of itself in the past.
Yet philosophies of the past have all taught of a "self" in man; sages have studied the constitution of our inner nature with scientific exactitude. It would seem foolhardy to ignore their testimony as to the existence of the self and the nature of the complex vehicles it uses for expression during its evolution on this earth. The very universality of such teachings, their intellectual profundity, and their ability to account for all the phenomena of human experience, both normal and abnormal, warrant their serious study; and it is one of the aims of theosophists today to bring this knowledge of our inner nature to the attention of the modern world.
Theosophy is, indeed, like a key to a code. Without the key a code is unintelligible, though one may make any number of observations about it and pile up a vast amount of data concerning it. The data may be absolutely correct, but they do not answer the question: "What does the code mean?" The modern psychologist has gathered a vast amount of such observable data about human beings. The key to the code is missing; but we notice that some of the more penetrating scientists are turning to the sacred books of the East to find the missing key.
It is naturally in the field of the abnormal human states that psychology and psychism meet; but the former confines itself mainly to research and experiment connected with such obvious states as dreams, hypnosis, insanity, hysteria, and double personality, leaving untouched a far wider range of unexplained "powers." Perhaps this is just as well for the time being.
It is worthy of note that practical psychology brings out a whole new set of problems to be solved which are totally unsuspected in the theoretical systems. In the treatment of abnormal states the practitioner often proves himself much bigger than his theory. This is surely because he brings to bear upon his actual problems his natural love of his fellowmen and his keen desire to bring relief to those who suffer. The spontaneous qualities of his spiritual nature cannot be denied and are bound to exert an influence upon those with whom he labors. On the other hand, he can ill afford to ignore any sources of knowledge in regard to psychic powers, for the simple reason that he is using them himself to some extent. His good intentions will not save his patient from the possibly disastrous effects of a power used in ignorance.
The use of hypnotism in the cure of various afflictions is discussed in a later chapter, but it may be pointed out here that even where hypnotism is not directly used, there is a large element of suggestion (another form of the same power) in the emotional relationship that is often developed between doctor and patient. The negative patient who lays open to his doctor the secrets of his inner self is likely to leave his own will passive for the entrance into the psychic nature of whatever the doctor wishes to put there. Leaving aside all cases of unscrupulous behavior on the part of the physician, the negative condition into which the patient is thrown is never advisable.
Though no sweeping generalities or dogmatic assertions can be made in regard to the profound problems that the medical psychologist is faced with when he probes into the dark chambers of the unbalanced psyche, we can look forward to the time when the patient will be taught to find and to rely upon the center of strength within himself, the true spiritual ego from which, in the end, all power for recovery must spring. All outside help, however salutary, can only have a lasting effect if it becomes an aid to the patient's own latent capacity to correct, from within, his own unbalanced state.
Psychic derangements often accompany, and indeed are the cause of various nervous and mental disorders which the medical psychologist treats. For instance, it is well known that certain types of megalomania, or exaggerated egotism, are often accompanied by psychic lesions where the sufferer imagines that he is being led to the performance of great deeds by some angelic guide. He hears "voices," he is said to be "clairvoyant," and in touch with "spiritual" powers, while all the time his own hallucination is feeding his sense of superiority. It would seem that a knowledge of the true nature of the psyche and the possibility of its "dislocation" in the human constitution — one of the commonest evidences of mediumship — would be an enormous help to the psychologist in studying such cases.
While it is freely admitted by many that Western psychology is still in its infancy, in its application to the practical affairs of everyday life, such as education and industry, excellent work is being done. But it is obvious that, whereas "psychologization" is freely taught and used, very little is known of the true nature of this psychic power. It has become such a common thing now to believe that it is a good action and a sign of strength of character to force one's own ideas or convictions upon others, that clever methods for doing so are ever on the increase. The very word "psychologize" has come to have this exclusive meaning, though its technical meaning is, of course, "to analyze psychologically." If it is argued that success in college or in business depends upon the use of this power, then we can only answer that that in itself is a sad commentary on present-day standards. A real psychologist might analyze this ignoble practice as an attempt, by illicit means, to bring about what the person of high integrity, character, and genius accomplishes through the compelling power of truth and of his innate spiritual strength. True greatness requires no psychological tricks to enhance it.
Mediumship of one kind or another is far more common than is generally supposed. It is by no means confined to "sensitives" in the seance room. And since a great many types of psychic powers are linked up with this matter, and their origin very little understood, it is worthwhile devoting a chapter to its study.
Speaking in a broad and general sense, we all act as "mediums" for the transmission of the thoughts and impulses originating in minds other than our own, to a certain extent at least. This is inevitable since we live and move in this world as parts of a great whole. The very law of life is a giving and taking. We are continuously exchanging and interchanging life-atoms — gross, ethereal and spiritual. Ideas spread through the astral ethers unimpeded by time and space. They enter human minds, are there clothed in a million forms, and are sent forth again to touch new minds, which in turn become new centers of generation. Thought expresses itself in action. Action becomes the stimulus to more thought. The flow is never-ending.
But for all that we must admit that, in our unenlightened attempts to use our divine faculties of will and imagination, we have transgressed the natural law of giving and taking. The complexities of human relationships offer endless illustrations of this fact. From motives good, bad, or mixed, in a thousand different ways we impose our wills on others; or, we become the instrument for the carrying out of someone else's will, or are moved to action by some other outside agency. Such relationships are not necessarily evil, but when they become habitual, then to the extent that the outside energy controls us, we are actually "mediums" of one kind or another, using this word in its broadest sense.
In a penetrating article in The Theosophist (June, 1884, p. 211), H. P. Blavatsky enumerates various types of such mediums, showing how such types may vary from the most debased to the most sublime:
A person may consciously and voluntarily submit his will to another being and become his slave. This other being may be a human being, and the medium will then be his obedient servant and may be used by him for good or bad purposes. This other "being" may be an idea, such as love, greediness, hate, jealousy, avarice, or some other passion, and the effect on the medium will be proportionate to the strength of the idea and the amount of self-control left in the medium. This "other being" may be an elementary or an elemental, and the poor medium become an epileptic, a maniac or a criminal.
This "other being" may be the man's own higher principle, whether alone or put into rapport with another ray of the collective universal spiritual principle, and the "medium" will then be a great genius, a writer, a poet, an artist, a musician, an inventor, and so on. This "other being" may be one of those exalted beings, called Mahatmas, and the conscious and voluntary medium will then be called their "Chela."
H. P. Blavatsky says further that the "medium" may or may not be conscious of the source of the influence which moves him. He may be unaware of what the actual being is like whose action is transmitted through him. He may really be getting inspiration from his own higher nature and imagine that he is in personal communication with Jesus. Or some adept may influence him to write a great scientific work and the writer imagine that he is in communication with the "spirit" of Faraday or Francis Bacon. On the other hand, a person may be moved to commit a crime which he considers entirely foreign to his nature, and not be aware of the fact that in this case he is being influenced by an evil denizen of the astral light to whom he has given hospitality.
It can be seen from the above that energies foreign to our own stream of vitality can use us at times in various ways. The playground of their activities is always the region of our psychic nature whether these energies come from "above" or "below." The dangerous and often evil cases of this psychological phenomenon occur when the psychic principle passively allows itself to be numbed, paralyzed, or even ousted by an intruder from outside. A large proportion of ordinary mediums are an outstanding example of this sort of usurpation; and a study of what is usually understood as "mediumship" will serve as a specific illustration of the above general remarks, and provide suggestive hints as to the enormous possibilities there are for loss of moral stamina as well as of psychic and physical health, where self-control is lacking.
THE ORDINARY TRANCE MEDIUM
The term medium usually designates one who is abnormally sensitive to impressions from the astral light. Some people are born with marked mediumistic powers. A great many more, having slight tendencies in that direction, have developed these tendencies, ignorantly supposing that a heaven-sent gift has been conferred upon them. Spiritualists have been largely responsible for this. Since the rise of the Spiritualist movement in the middle of last century, they have never wavered from a sincere belief that by means of "sensitives" under trance, communications can be made with the spirits of departed loved ones.
Now, no true occultist would deny that communication of some kind is made. The question is: Communication with what? There are adepts in occult science who have answered this question. It was they who instructed H. P. Blavatsky in that knowledge which she endeavored to share with the Spiritualists. The teachings of these adepts concerning the nature of spiritualistic communications bear the force and conviction of first-hand testimony: for that is exactly what it is. They have used neither guesswork, fancy, nor even philosophical speculation. At home in the invisible worlds, they have used the discriminating faculty of their own spiritual clairvoyance to test and observe what takes place therein. The theosophical teachings upon these matters represent the findings they have deemed wise to release for the present generations of mankind.
First of all, it is impossible to understand this subject of "communication" without a knowledge of what happens to our complex nature after death. Barring frauds — of which, unfortunately, there have been all too many in the history of Spiritualism — we might list types of contact made by the medium as follows:
(a) Elementals or nature spirits. These throng the astral light. Their will, such as it is, is not directed by purposive thought. They are irresponsible and mischievous, and will assume whatever thought-forms are most strongly present in the atmosphere of the seance room, impressed thereon by the medium or the sitters. Their lively action explains a large proportion of the phenomena of spiritualism.
(b) The "shells" of dead men, called kama-rupas in theosophical philosophy. These are of astral substance, and like the greater astral light, from which they draw their life, they are impregnated with all the passional and lower emotional thoughts and feelings of the human beings who built them up during earth life.
Such kama-rupa is no fit body for the real self after death, who makes its escape out of the astral light as quickly as it may, leaving this "shell" to fade out as it will. It is this "shell" that is often revitalized in the seance room, its passions quickened into a false life, and its automatic memory made to rehearse again and again the words and acts of the ego that once ensouled it.
(c) Akin to these "shells" are the elementaries. These are the most evil denizens of the astral light. They are also kama-rupas of former human beings, but of
grossly materialistic ex-humans whose evil impulses and appetites still inhering in the kama-rupic phantom draw these phantoms to physical spheres congenial to them. They are a real danger to psychical health and sanity, and literally haunt living human beings possessing tendencies akin to their own. They are soulless shells, but still filled with energies of a depraved and ignoble type. — G. de Purucker: Occult Glossary
Blavatsky describes such a kama-rupa as a vampire "feeding on the vitality of those who are so anxious for its company" (Theosophical Glossary, p. 172).
(d) Occasionally, under very rare and unusual conditions, and when death has just taken place, the true ego of the deceased may speak through the medium. (This sometimes can happen just before death also.) The rare event of such communication just after death is, in fact, only possible as long as the brain is still functioning. Occultism has always stated what physiologists now admit, that the process of decease may last several days. When true death has taken place, the ego slips into unconsciousness from which no medium can recall it.
(e) Certain unusual cases exist where authentic communication has been made with the spirit of a departed friend. This does not mean the descent of such spirit. It implies that the medium's higher ego is on the same high plane as the disembodied spirit and can thus contact it. The medium must be absolutely pure, and then his higher ego, untrammeled by an impure psychic vehicle,
has the opportunity and facility of influencing the passive organs of its entranced physical body, to make them act, speak, and write at its will. The Ego can make it repeat, echo-like, and in the human language, the thoughts and ideas of the disembodied entity, as well as its own. — H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, p. 30
(f) This last case would cover those likewise rare occurrences of contact between the medium and some spiritual being, the contact always made through the intermediary of the medium's own higher ego. It should be distinctly understood, however, that in cases (e) and (f) there can be no materialization in the seance room.
It might be added here that the adept can do this and similar things self-consciously and directed by his will. The unstable condition of the constitution prevalent among mediums is only too often a hindrance to communications of a spiritual nature.
Finally, we should include those numerous instances where the medium is merely reading the thoughts in the minds of the sitters. The technical or detailed information thus received has often been adduced by the unsuspecting investigator as irrefutable proof of true "spirit" communication. As a matter of fact, everyone present at a seance is likely to influence the type and extent of the phenomena presented, even though he may be taking no obvious part in the proceedings. It has even been pointed out that a skeptic present will act as a sort of "freezing" agent impeding the usual progress of affairs.
Having enumerated the types of entities with which communication is made, there still remains to be given an explanation of just what it is that appears in the seance room. The word materialization is used in Spiritualism to denote the objective appearance of what purports to be the spirit of the departed one. The striking and sometimes photographic likeness of these shapes constitutes one of the surest proofs to the Spiritualist that it is indeed the dead friend or relative who has "returned." Since the actual state of affairs precludes the possibility of the return of the true spirit of the departed from higher realms, what explanation are we to give for this phenomenon?
The theosophical philosophy explains that the densest astral substance is very near indeed to the most tenuous physical, so that the appearance caught on the photographic plate and seen occasionally with the human eye is that of a coarse grade of astral substance which has become partially objective through the concurrence of a number of favorable conditions. This should be no more difficult to understand than the various electric phenomena with which we are all familiar. Electricity is forever about us, yet only under certain conditions does its activity become visible. There is also an analogy in the transformations from the invisible to the visible and vice versa which take place daily in the test tube of the chemist. Or, again, where is our spark of fire before we strike the match that causes it to spring into visibility?
Evidently there is more than one grade of astral substance employed in materializations, and as there are a number of different factors involved, the matter is a very complicated one; but a few general principles can be stated.
Sometimes the apparition, if we may so call it, is formed by the actual astral eidolon or kama-rupa of the deceased which naturally bears the likeness of the body that once harbored it.
Whenever the strong desires of living men and the conditions furnished by the abnormal constitutions of mediums are combined together, these eidola are drawn — nay, pulled down from their plane on to ours and made objective. — H. P. Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary, p. 210
Then there is the "double" or astral body which can be projected a short distance from the physical body of the medium. This gathers to itself particles of ethereal substance suspended in the atmosphere about it, and drawn even from the vital emanations of the sitters. It then takes upon itself whatever thought-forms are most strongly impressed from the minds of those present — more often than not, the likeness of the deceased.
Another and more tangible process is the extrusion of material substance (ectoplasm) from the body of the medium, which substance, being highly plastic, molds itself into recognizable forms. In some cases this is like a flat plate upon which a picture is thrown. Obviously these images are not "spirits" of any kind; they are merely illusions foisted upon the ignorant sitters by sportive nature spirits.
In fact, only too often the Spiritualists, and even the more scientific researchers, are subject to the most deceptive illusions because of the activity of the mischievous denizens of the astral light.
It is to these astral denizens that are to be attributed the crazy moving of furniture, violent breaking of household objects, ringing of bells and other strange noises, as well as the more intelligent "raps" answering questions by a sort of code, which are known both in the seance room and out of it.* These phenomena are generally classed under the term poltergeist, a German word meaning literally "racketing spirit." This term is quite accurate, but scientists have adopted it without accepting its significance, since they do not recognize the existence of "spirits." When they do not dismiss such occurrences with some mechanical explanation which is often absurd and totally inadequate, they simply describe them as "phenomena of an unexplained nature and of untraceable origin."
*It is a recognized fact that these messages often start out in an incoherent manner, but by mediumistic encouragement a pseudo-personality is gradually developed, representing itself as a spirit known to the sitters. This is explained in theosophy by the fact that elementals collect the thoughts and images in the minds of those present — which are usually centered upon the departed one — until by degrees an artificial resemblance to the latter's way of thinking and method of expression is built up. If this line of investigation were followed out by psychic researchers, it would lead them to a fuller appreciation of the illusory nature of a great number of the phenomena of so-called spirit-return.
These phenomena, known in all ages and to all peoples from the most savage to the most highly developed, are explained in theosophy in accordance with the principles already set forth. The factors involved are first, a person of mediumistic tendencies, and second, the inhabitants of the astral light. The "medium" may be a person temporarily in an unbalanced state perhaps through some nervous malady or nervous shock. Often it is a young girl; and the household may be annoyed for some time by these disturbing happenings without the slightest idea as to who is acting as the "contact point" with the astral world. Such a person's constitution acts as an electric wire, so to speak, conducting astral forces onto the physical plane.
There are two general explanations for these disturbances, but, as in all such matters, each case under observation would have to be expertly studied for a complete understanding of all the factors involved. Sometimes it is the medium's own astral limbs, extruded in a sort of dream fashion, which lift books from a table, knock down pieces of china, and so on. More often it is frolicsome nature spirits which, attracted to psychically sensitive people, are unconsciously used by them to perform these various crazy acts. The medium serves as a sort of inferior type of magician — not evil, but using nature forces as a magician does, though unconsciously and without the technical knowledge of the latter.
A more fully developed medium may attract the decaying kama-rupa of some former evil human being, or even a sorcerer who is reaching the last stages of disintegration but who has enough vitality left to permit him to act on the physical plane through the constitution of the medium. Thus the medium who develops his so-called powers by repeated attempts at contact with "the other side" is in a far worse state than the mere "sensitive" whose inner faculties may be temporarily out of control.
MEDIUMSHIP AN UNDESIRABLE PROFESSION
This whole business of attempting to communicate with the dead has been traditionally considered as necromancy. Modern Spiritualists are saved from its more evil forms by their good intentions and perhaps even more because of their very ignorance of the occult laws for tampering with the dead which were known to evil sorcerers in the past. It is in their ignorance also that they are violating a law of nature which mercifully puts a veil of oblivion between ourselves and those who have passed from this plane. Though it is true that present-day attempts to communicate with the departed ego are not successful, nevertheless the tampering with the being in the kama-loka delays the process of the ego's freeing itself from the lower astral realms. W. Q. Judge tells us that the ego may actually feel a twinge every time his shade is called up in the "charnel house of a living medium's body."
But the greatest danger in these practices is to the medium himself. His nature, in the first place, becomes a playground for elemental beings. Normally these beings look upon man as their master and they are quick to recognize and respect those superior moral qualities manifest in the controlled and balanced person. But when man drops to their plane and ignorantly invades their realm, then they become the master. Since they are quite without conscience and moral stamina, it is obvious that the very fiber of character of one under their influence is consistently undermined.
The medium also opens the door of his nature to elementaries who are forever seeking an entrance into earth-life in order to satisfy their unfulfilled lusts. In some cases these usurpers are successful in ousting the wavering psyche of the medium from its seat within the human constitution and then play havoc with his nervous system and mental and even moral stability. Deterioration nearly always results.
Even the "shells" of averagely good individuals, magnetically drawn to the seance room, are harmful. Since they are galvanized into a false life by drawing upon the nervous vitality of the entranced medium, the latter is always left bloodless and exhausted. In fact it is generally recognized that the nervous health of mediums is deplorably bad; and their usual psychic instability is also admitted. Note the accepted definition of a medium quoted in a modern book on Spiritualism:
One whose constituent elements — mental, dynamic and material — are capable of being momentarily decentralized. The innate tendency to dissociation in these peculiar constitutions is increased by the practice of mediumship, which tends to render the primarily abnormal state more and more easy and normal — a fact that should cause one to pause before embarking on the career. — A Cavalcade of the Supernatural, by H. H. U. Cross, 1939, p. 137
Blavatsky's emphatic warnings against the cultivation of mediumistic powers, as well as the words of other theosophical teachers, take on added force when one reviews the fate of the many human wrecks that modern Spiritualism has left in its train.
MEDIATOR VERSUS MEDIUM
Fortunately this unlovely subject has another side to it — the true occult science of which mediumship is but a counterfeit. In the highly trained human being, the psychic nature can be so absolutely under control, so free from the pull downwards towards things of matter, so pellucid, that it can act as an intermediary for the transmission of the lofty energies of the spiritual ego without distortion or misrepresentation.
The technical word to describe such an intermediary is mediator. The character of a mediator is the antithesis of that of the medium. The former is highly spiritual, with a forceful personality often, and a firmness of will which could in no way be affected or turned aside by beings in the lower astral light. It is said, in fact, that the evil denizens of the astral currents surrounding our earth could not endure to be near one who radiated such spiritual vitality. Myths and stories of every land telling of those highly developed beings who seem to walk in the light and radiate it about them, and from whom "devils" and "demons" flee, have their originals in actual individuals. If we do not see many such in our day, we may well believe it is because we have not created an atmosphere congenial to their exalted natures (see Isis Unveiled 1:487-8).
A mediator is also able on occasion to step aside, so to speak, with full consciousness, in order to allow his brain and body to be used by one even greater than himself. This "stepping aside" in no way resembles the disjunction or dislodging of the intermediate nature which takes place in the case of the hapless and helpless medium, nor has it anything to do with Spiritualism or spiritualistic seances. It is done with the full intelligence and cooperation of the individual and for a divinely compassionate purpose.
There is value to the ordinary man and woman in this teaching of the infilling of the nature with the inspiration of the higher self. By studying the principles of both mediumship and mediatorship, we can learn in our every act to avoid the former while cultivating the latter state. A positive, alert attitude to the duties that life brings us, a practice of the power of concentration, and an attempt to lift even the commonplaces of our existence to a plane where they can be illumined by the light of our own spiritual nature, are the first steps in a training which must extend over many lifetimes before we reach the status of the mediator.
There is also to be taken into account the ever-present urge inherent in the god within us in its attempts to guide us along life’s devious ways, in order to raise its "lower self," the human individual, toward a final consummation of self-conscious unity with itself. When the inner god thus leans from its heights and touches its lower brother-mind, there then instantaneously passes from the god a spiritual-electric fire into the being of the one thus divinely touched.. — G. de Purucker, The Esoteric Tradition, 3rd & rev. ed., p. 527
There is no normal human being who cannot learn to become such a mediator for the transmission of this "spiritual-electric fire" from the god within his own being.
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