The subject of spiritualism brings us face to face with the history of the Theosophical Society and the true progress of the human soul. When Mme. Blavatsky came to this country in obedience to the orders given her by those she called her Masters and who are known to us as the Mahatmas and Adepts, it was with spiritualism here that she began. It was seen by the Masters that the new wave of inquiry had begun in those ranks but had been deflected into the channel of materialism miscalled by the high name of "spiritualism", and it was sought at first to give the spiritualists a chance to do what they might and ought for the sake of the western races. But the opportunity was not availed of at all: instead, ridicule and hate were thrown by them at H. P. B. Anyone who reads the published letters of the Masters can see the attention paid at first to this. One said that he was engaged in looking over the utterances of the mediums at their camp meetings, and H. P. B. often wrote her views as if she wanted to get into their ranks. She did wish to get there for the purpose of reform, but they would not let her in, and thus missed the greatest chance of the age. Letters were written by her to many people to have them help a new paper in Boston called the Spiritual Scientist as one that would give the right views about these matters, and she and Olcott wrote for the paper and gave money to it. It, however, died out soon. I knew the editor, and personally knew what H. P. B. and Olcott were then doing in that particular instance. She wanted to reform such abuses as paid and public mediums, and all the mass of wrong notion and wrong dealing with the whole subject, and especially she wished, as we do also, that things should be called by their right names, and that certain facts should not be accepted as proofs for theories advanced by mediums, and especially by A. J. Davis, as to the state after death and the power and nature of the forces that come to and about mediums. So it may be justly said that at first she had in mind to carry a reform in spiritualism at a time when the cycle permitted vastly more phenomena than now. And a student in Theosophy will see in this her knowledge of facts and laws of which so many are ignorant to this day. For it is the fact that then more psychic power was loose in the country than there now is, and also that it was bound, as years rolled on, to fade out to some extent. This is borne out by history, for it is hard today to find many good physical mediums, while then it was very easy and they were quite common. The world thinks that the reason that they have now grown rare is because of many exposures, but the real reason is that the force has for the time diminished. Her desire, in fact her haste, was to take advantage of time before all was too late. And so when she found no acceptance among the spiritualists, she and Olcott began the Theosophical Society.
We are brought by the subject face to face with the problem of the nature and destiny of the human soul, because the facts of spiritualism are the facts of the soul's own life and of the various vehicles it uses for its experience of Nature. Spiritualists look at this subject in a material way and go at it blindly, endangering all who have anything to do with it. They speak of the life after death, and give details as to the facts of that life which are to the spiritually minded the grossest form of materialism, for they but deify and enlarge in the most sensuous manner the life supposed to be led after death, a life modeled entirely on this poor mean existence of ours and not at all resembling what soul-life ought to be. They have merely made the old Christian heaven a little more definite and gross.
The Theosophist must accept the facts of spiritualism or be accused of ignorance and bigotry. But his philosophy gives to those facts an explanation which takes in the real nature of man, without sentiment, wonder, or amazement. He looks for the right meaning at all hazards. It is folly and waste of time to go day after day to a medium and hear over again that which excites wonder. And the careful Theosophist knows it is also dangerous to seek mediums; it is better to stay away and try to understand philosophy first of all. Not a single thing seen at a seance but can be found in smaller measure elsewhere if you but choose to look, for the world is full of wonders every day, and each one's life has in it much that gives the explanation for what the spiritualist claims as exclusively his own. If you will watch your own life in its three stages of waking, deep sleep, and dream, you will find the key to all the mysteries of mind and even to the mysteries of the whole of nature. So in considering spiritualism you must not set it in a compartment by itself, but must examine every part of the subject with reference to the living man and the philosophy of that living man's constitution. If you do not do so, but go on looking at these phenomena by themselves, you will be all the time on the wrong road and sure to come at last to wrong conclusions about the whole matter. It is hence important for us to keep clearly in mind the sevenfold constitution of man as explained in Theosophical literature. Our septenary nature must be known if we are to know all that the psychical phenomena mean, and we must also remember that what we are really considering is not the body but the action of the soul itself in the use of its various sheaths sometimes called "principles". And also it is essential, if you wish to know the truth, that you should accept, and try to understand, the impermanent nature of all that is usually called "material", and "matter", and "objective". The dense may at once become the fluid, and the objective turn into the subjective; in the same way also the subjective may, by the operation of natural laws, become the objective, and the unseen is more permanent than the seen. If this is not accepted and realized, then there will be no hope of the enquirer's really knowing anything but the outside of all these strange phenomena. Set it down very carefully in the mind, then, that thoughts and ideas make shapes of their own which have the power under certain conditions of affecting our senses in such a way as to seem objective to our waking-cognition. This often happens in the realm of the psychic nature, and has deluded hundreds into thinking that to be spirit which was not spirit, but was of the very grossest part and essence of matter. And this brings us to the root of it all, which is that matter in its essence is invisible but at the same time far more gross than the matter we talk of daily. Almost to this conclusion such men as Tyndall and Huxley have been led when they tell you that it is impossible for us to really know anything of the essential or ultimate nature of matter.
In looking over spiritualism it resolves itself, so far as distinguishing it from other matters, into those phenomena called the coming back of the spirits of the dead, the materialization of forms said to be those of the dead and hence called "materialized forms", the carrying through the air of objects or the bodies of mediums, the writing of messages or the giving of them, and the precipitation of such messages in the style and handwriting of the deceased. Trance speaking, messages delivered in trance or not, speaking by inspiration, clairvoyance, and clairaudience, and all such phenomena are not distinctively the property of present-day spiritualism, as they have all been known for ages. But what I have laid aside as distinctive is quite wonderful to the ordinary lay mind, as we do not know how it may be possible for a tangible form to come out of the air, nor how a woman sitting in a trance may be able to tell many facts such as the name, the circumstances, and all such details about a dead man whom she never knew. And just here is the point of departure between the Theosophist and the Spiritualist. The latter says this proves that the dead man's spirit is present, but the theosophist denies it and says it is all done by some or all of three agencies, excluding kama-loka entities. The first is the astral remainder of the dead man, devoid of his soul and the conscience; the second is the astral body of the living medium; and the last the minds and astral bodies of those present. In these three agencies is the explanation of every one of the phenomena; the elemental sprites being included in all the three, as they take part in every movement in nature and man all over the globe and around it. That is why I have not given them a separate part in the matter. Our every thought stirs up and uses these elementals, and the motion of the wind, the rays of the sun, and the fluids of the body, with the motions of the organs, all do the same thing. These elementals are the nerves of nature, and not a thing can happen or be done in any department of life that does not involve and use the sprites of the elements. By their aid, acting only under law, do our thoughts fly from place to place. They galvanize the deserted astral bodies of the dead, and thus, giving them a brief and wholly artificial life, cause them, like machines, to utter sounds, to repeat what they had been concerned in, to imitate the once active and ensouled person. This is about all the "spirit" there is in the communications from the dead. We might as well say that a lot of educated parrots left in a deserted house were the souls of the persons who had once lived there and owned the birds. Indeed, the illustration of the parrot is perfect, for a good parrot behind a screen could make you think that an intelligent man was hidden from view but speaking in a voice you hear and words you understand.
Take now the case of a "materialized form". Here you see, rising out of the floor or coming from the cabinet, an apparent human form which you can touch and feel, and which, in the very best case, utters some words. What is this? Is it real? Is it a spirit?
It is not a spirit. It is made from the astral body of the medium, and often from astral matter sucked out of the sitters who may be present. The medium furnishes the natural chemical laboratory in which the astral particles are added to the loose physical atoms of the persons near, so as to make a dense form from the subjective that becomes for a time objective, but which cannot remain. It will fade away. A framework of magnetic and astral particles is first made, and then is condensed by adding the physical particles from the bodies of those present. Then it becomes visible. But it has no organs. It could not be dissected. And did it last long enough to be sawed in two you would find that it was solid all through, or ethereal as you please, for the dividing line between those two conditions would be constantly changing. It certainly would not be the heavenly form of your departed dead. More likely it is made up by the great force of some person of a very bad and utterly depraved nature lingering in the sphere of the earth and unable to get out of it, but constantly desiring to gratify its old lusts.
This is the ancient explanation, and the same solution has been given by one or two mediums under what they call control. Once, some years ago, a medium in Chicago reported that one Jim Nolan, long dead but said to be a very learned spook, came to her and said that materializations were just as I have told you, and added, "Why do you suppose it useful or necessary for us to make a new form for every new spirit that comes to you? We use the same old form over and over again, and we just reflect upon it from the astral light the face of those who are dead whom you wish to see." (2) He might have added that if the callers persisted in asking only for those who were still alive, the forms and faces of the living would also materialize from the cabinet. This experiment has not been tried by the spiritualists, but it would inevitably result in proving that others than the dead would appear, and would cover with doubt the question of the dead returning. For if a spirit materialized, which after all turned out to be the simulacrum of a living person, what proof would one have that all the other spooks were not also alive? This is just what Theosophy says. They are all alive, and are one and all fraudulent representations of those whose names are taken in vain. And until this crucial experiment has been tried and well tried, the spiritualist cannot properly assert that the dead come back and make themselves visible.
The imagination of both sitters and medium is also very potent. Not in making them see what is not there, but in giving the shape or form to what does come. I have seen by the side of a medium of weak picture-making power the forms of so-called spirits that looked as if made by an amateur, as if cut out roughly from some substance. This was because the medium had no ability to draw or picture a thing to himself, and so, the elementals having to follow the natural model in the medium's mind, had perforce to produce just what shape was there. But others there are who have good picturing-power, and so with them the spook is well formed.
This brings me to the precipitation or writing of messages; and here it does not make any difference about the ability of the medium to write or draw, as the model or matrix of writing or picture is fixed in the astral light, or ether, and makes it easy for the natural forces to produce an exact imitation of the writing of those who have died. As I have seen the writing of the living thus imitated in precipitation, I know that this is the process, and that the matrix or model is independent of the medium.
The laws governing the production of a precipitation of matter from space on to a surface so as to become fixed and visible on the paper or other material are the same in every case, whether done unconsciously by a medium or consciously by an Adept in the art.
The medium acts as the controlled and ignorant means; the Adept is the master, and at his own will, using the same laws, brings about the same end. The difference between the two is just that which exists in the case of the person who throws a mass of paint at a canvas and produces, by an accidental combination of color, a sunset or other scene, and the artist who with knowledge and skill deliberately paints a picture. Other illustrations will occur to you of the same kind. In the realm of psychic force, however, the laws act with greater certainty and power, thus showing results more astonishing. So we may not say that the medium uses any of the laws consciously, but we can assert that the inner body, the astral one, of the medium may use these laws and forces in a manner not understood by the waking sense of the person.
Now when the Adept makes a precipitation he constructs with the developed imagination or picture-making power of the mind an image, exact in every detail, of the words or figures to be precipitated, and then, using the force of his will, draws from the air the carbon or other matter for the color. This falls like rain, condensed from the air, and is unerringly drawn into the limits of the picture thus made by the mind. The drawing force being continued, it gradually condenses on the paper, and you have the message or the picture. Of course there are some other details I have not given, but they are not now necessary for the explanation. The medium is the means for the same action helped on by the elementals.
The cases of slate-writing are not usually precipitation, but are the actual rubbing of the pencil on the surface of the slate, and this is always done by the astral hand of the medium urged on by the elemental forces and the vivified astral shells of the dead. The explanation of the resemblance to handwriting and so forth is as adverted to above, from the pictures in the astral light, the pictures in the aura of the sitters, and also those in the aura and mind of the medium. There is no spirit present but those enclosed in living bodies, and none of the messages will be any higher or better than the education and nature of medium and sitters and the sub-conscious impressions in the medium's astral body.
Objects have been carried through the air and even through walls in the presence of some mediums, and also sometimes the bodies of mediums have been levitated. How is this done? If you go to India you can see, by searching, the bodies of yogees levitated and objects sent flying through space. I have seen both there, as well as in the presence and by the conscious force of Mme. Blavatsky. In levitation of the human body the thing is clone by altering the polarity of the body so that it is of the opposite kind of electricity to the spot of earth beneath. The distance it will levitate depends on the force and strength of the polar change. This is not contrary to gravitation, for that law is but one half of the great law which should be called attraction and repulsion, or, in other words, sympathy or its opposite. Gravitation, in the opinion of Occultism, depends entirely on electrical law, and not on weight or density.
Carrying of objects through the air by no visible means is a feat of the elementals or of the astral hand of the medium. And hence we have to know all about the astral body. One of the powers of the astral body is that of stretching out to a distance of a great many yards.
The sending of a hard object through a wall is done with small objects, and then a portion of the wall equal to the size of the object selected is disintegrated, so that the small object may pass through. It cannot be done with very large things, nor with the human organized frame, except by the exertion of a vast amount of force not in the control of any one save a Master. I have seen H. P. B. push out her astral arm and hand for a space of over ten feet and draw into her physical hand an object at the other side of the room, and this is what she meant by "psychological frauds", as you did not perceive the arm and hand and were filled with wonder to see inanimate things move of their own accord, so far as you could tell. The medium does the same thing most of the time, and in very few cases are they aware that it is their own member that does it. But of course there are instances when the elemental sprites do it also.
Other phenomena belong to other fields. For all of them have been long before the world, and all that really distinguishes spiritualism from the rest is that it amounts to no more than the worship or following of the dead. It is not the worship of spirits at all. It is dealing with the dead shells of once living men and women. We hold that at death the soul flies to other states and leaves its coats of skin and of astral matter behind it. These should be let alone, as there is danger in them. They belong to other planes of nature, and if we wake them up, brutes and devils as they really are, we then subject ourselves to their influence and power. I say they are brutes and devils because the best of us knows that a part of our nature is not divine but is related to the earth and to brute matter, and is full too of all the passions and desires we have had in life. The soul being gone, there is no director to guide and prevent, and so we deal only with the gross dregs of man when we attend seances or let ourselves become mediums. In sleep we see a slight but convincing evidence of this. Then we are gone for a time, and the body, left to itself, throws itself into unbecoming attitudes, snores, throws itself about, and may strike another: I have read of cases where a man in sleep has leaned over and killed the person lying beside him. "Oh," you say, "that was a nightmare". Precisely; it was; but it was the body of the man not controlled by his soul that did the act. It is the same with these spooks. They are devoid of soul, no matter who may have been the owner in life, and it is better to leave them alone and try on the other hand to develop and educate the living soul while it is in the body and is the real trinity, through which alone in any life real knowledge may be gained.
In a short paper it is impossible to fully treat this subject, as it brings up the whole of dynamics and science of psychic forces. But I have indicated the solution to all the problems that arise. For the present, until you have carefully studied the sevenfold constitution and the nature of mind with its powers, you may have difficulty with the matter except so far as concerns the historical and analogical arguments. These, together with the improbability deduced from absurdities of speech and action shown by the alleged spirits, should sustain the position taken so many years ago by H. P. Blavatsky and outlined above. And no one surely can doubt but that no truthful spiritual utterances — other than as to mere facts — can come out of the practice of sordid money dealings between mediums and enquirers. This is the bane of spiritualism, and should be eliminated at whatever great or painful cost. Until that is done no good can come out of that Nazareth.
1. Read before Aryan T. S., February 28. 1893. (return to text)
2. See Religio-Philosophical Journal for 1877. (return to text)
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