A Society Without a Dogma
The (London) Spiritualist, February 8th, 1878
Times have greatly changed since the winter of 1875-6, when the establishment of the Theosophical Society caused the grand army of American Spiritualists to wave banners, clang steel, and set up a great shouting. How well we all remember the putting forth of “Danger Signals,” the oracular warnings and denunciations of numberless mediums! How fresh in memory the threats of ‘‘angel-friends’’ to Dr. Gardiner, of Boston, that they would kill Colonel Olcott if he dared call them “Elementaries” in the lectures he was about delivering! The worst of the storm has passed. The hail of imprecations no longer batters around our devoted heads; it is but raining now, and we can almost see the rainbow of promised peace spanning the sky.
Beyond doubt, much of this subsidence of the disturbed Elements is due to our armed neutrality. But still, I judge that the gradual spread of a desire to learn something more as to the cause of the phenomena must be taken into account. And yet the time has not quite come when the lion (Spiritualism) and the lamb (Theosophy) are ready to lie down together—unless the lamb is willing to lie inside the lion. While we held our tongues we were asked to speak; and when we spoke—or rather our President spoke—the hue and cry was raised once more. Though the pop-gun fusillade and the dropping shots of musketry have mostly ceased, the defiles of your Spiritual Balkans are defended by your heaviest Krupp guns. If the fire were directed only against Colonel Olcott there would be no occasion for me to bring up the reserves. But fragments from both of the bombs which your able gunner and our mutual friend, “M. A. (Oxon.),” has exploded, in his two letters of January 4th and 11th, have given me contusions—under the velvet paw of his rhetoric I have felt the scratch of challenge!
At the very beginning of what must be a long struggle, it is imperatively demanded that the Theosophical position shall be unequivocally defined. In the last of the above two communications, it is stated that Colonel Olcott transmits “the teaching of the learned author of Isis Unveiled, the master key to all problems (?).” Who has ever claimed that the book was that, or anything like it? Not the author, certainly. The title? A misnomer for which the publisher is unpremeditatedly responsible; and, if I am not mistaken, “M. A. (Oxon.)” knows it. My title was the Veil of Isis, and that headline runs through the entire first volume. Not until that volume was stereotyped did any one recollect that a book of the same name was before the public. Then, as a dernière ressource, the publisher selected the present title.
“If he (Olcott) be not the rose, at any rate he has lived near it,” says your learned correspondent. Had I seen this sentence apart from the context, I would never have imagined that the unattractive old party, superficially known as H. P. Blavatsky, was designated under this poetical Persian simile. If he had compared me to a bramble-bush, I might have complimented him upon his artistic realism. “Colonel Olcott,” he says, “of himself would command attention; he commands it still more on account of the store of knowledge to which he has had access.” True, he has had such access, but by no means is it confined to my humble self. Though I may have taught him a few of the things that I had learned in other countries (and corroborated the theory in every case by practical illustration), yet a far abler teacher than I could not in three brief years have given him more than the alphabet of what there is to learn before a man can become wise in spiritual and psycho-physiological things. The very limitations of modern languages prevent any rapid communication of ideas about Eastern philosophy. I defy the great Max Müller himself to translate Kapila’s Sutras so as to give their real meaning. We have seen what the best European authorities can do with the Hindu metaphysics and what a mess they have made of it, to be sure! The Colonel corresponds directly with Hindu scholars, and has from them a good deal more than he can get from so clumsy a preceptor as myself.
Our friend, “M. A. (Oxon.),” says that Colonel Olcott “comes forward to enlighten us”—than which scarce anything could be more inaccurate. He neither comes forward nor pretends to enlighten anyone. The public wanted to know the views of the Theosophists, and our president attempted to give, as succinctly as possible in the limits of a single article, some little glimpse of so much of the truth as he had learned. That the result would not be wholly satisfactory was inevitable. Volumes would not suffice to answer all the questions naturally presenting themselves to an inquiring mind; a library of quartos would barely obliterate the prejudices of those who ride at the anchor of centuries of metaphysical and theological misconceptions—perhaps even errors. But, though our president is not guilty of the conceit of pretending to “enlighten” Spiritualists, I think he has certainly thrown out some hints worthy of the thoughtful consideration of the unprejudiced.
I am sorry that “M. A. (Oxon.)” is not content with mere suggestions. Nothing but the whole naked truth will satisfy him. We must “square” our theories with his facts, we must lay our theory down “on exact lines of demonstration.” We are asked, “Where are the seers? what are their records? and (far more important), how do they verify them to us?” I answer, the seers are where “Schools of the Prophets” are still extant, and they have their records with them. Though Spiritualists are not able to go in search of them, yet the philosophy they teach commends itself to logic, and its principles are mathematically demonstrable. If this be not so, let it be shown.
But, in their turn, Theosophists may ask, and do ask, where are the proofs that the medial phenomena are exclusively attributable to the agency of departed “spirits”? Who are the “seers” among mediums blessed with an infallible lucidity? What “tests” are given that admit of no alternative explanation? Though Swedenborg was one of the greatest of seers, and churches are erected in his name, yet except to his adherents what proof is there that the “spirits” objective to his vision—including Paul—promenading in hats, were anything but the creatures of his imagination? Are the spiritual potentialities of the living man so well comprehended that mediums can tell when their own agency ceases, and that of outside influences begins? No, but for all answer to our suggestions that the subject is opened to debate, “M. A. (Oxon.)” shudderingly charges us with attempting to upset what he designates as “a cardinal dogma of our faith”—i.e., the faith of the Spiritualists.
Dogma? Faith? These are the right and left pillars of every soul-crushing theology. Theosophists have no dogmas, exact no blind faith. Theosophists are ever ready to abandon every idea that is proved erroneous upon strictly logical deductions; let Spiritualists do the same. Dogmas are the toys that amuse and can satisfy but unreasoning children. They are the offspring of human speculation and prejudiced fancy. In the eye of true philosophy it seems an insult to common sense that we should break loose from the idols and dogmas of either Christian or heathen exoteric faith to catch those of a church of Spiritualism. Spiritualism must either be a true philosophy, amenable to the tests of the recognized criterion of logic, or be set up in its niche beside the broken idols of hundreds of antecedent Christian sects. Realizing as they do the boundlessness of the absolute truth, Theosophists repudiate all claims to infallibility. The most cherished preconceptions, the most “pious hope,” the strongest “master passion,” they sweep aside like dust from their path, when their error is pointed out. Their highest hope is to approximate the truth; that they have succeeded in going a few steps beyond the Spiritualists, they think proved in their conviction that they know nothing in comparison with what is to be learned; in their sacrifice of every pet theory and prompting of emotionalism at the shrine of Fact; and in their absolute and unqualified repudiation of everything that smacks of “dogma.”
With great rhetorical elaboration “M. A. (Oxon.)” paints the result of the supersedure of Spiritualistic by Theosophic ideas. In brief, he shows Spiritualism a lifeless corpse—“a body from which the soul has been wrenched, and for which most men will care nothing.” We submit that the reverse is true. Spiritualists wrench the soul from true Spiritualism by their degradation of spirit. Of the infinite they make the finite; of the divine subjective they make the human and limited objective. Are Theosophists materialists? Do not their hearts warm with the same “pure and holy love” for their “loved ones” as those of Spiritualists? Have not many of us sought long years “through the gate of mediumship to have access to the world of spirit”—and vainly sought? The comfort and assurance modern Spiritualism could not give us we found in Theosophy. As a result we believe far more firmly than many Spiritualists—for our belief is based on knowledge—in the communion of our beloved ones with us; but not as materialized spirits with beating hearts and sweating brows.
Holding such views as we do as to logic and fact, you perceive that when a Spiritualist pronounces to us the words dogma and facts, debate is impossible, for there is no common ground upon which we can meet. We decline to break our heads against shadows. If fact and logic were given the consideration they should have, there would be no more temples in this world for exoteric worship, whether Christian or heathen, and the method of the Theosophists would be welcomed as the only one insuring action and progress—a progress that cannot be arrested, since each advance shows yet greater advances to be made.
As to our producing our “Seers” and “their records”—one word. In The Spiritualist of January 11th, I find Dr. Peebles saying that in due time he “will publish such facts about the Dravida Brâhmans as I am (he is) permitted. I say permitted because some of these occurred under the promise and seal of secrecy.” If ever the casual wayfarer is put under an obligation of secrecy, before he is shown some of the less important psycho-physiological phenomena, is it not barely possible that the Brotherhood to which some Theosophists belong, has also doctrines, records, and phenomena, that cannot be revealed to the profane and the indifferent, without any imputation lying against their reality and authoritativeness? This, at least, I believe, “M. A. (Oxon.)” knows. As we do not offensively obtrude ourselves upon an unwilling public, but only answer under compulsion, we can hardly be denounced as contumacious if we produce to a promiscuous public, neither our “Seers” nor “their records.” When Mahomet is ready to go to the mountain it will be found standing in its place.
And that no one that makes this search may suppose that we Theosophists send him to a place where there are no pitfalls for the unwary, I quote from the famous Commentary on the Bhagavad-Gîtâ of our brother Hurrychund Chintamon, the unqualified admission that “In Hindustan, as in England, there are doctrines for the learned and dogmas for the unlearned; strong meat for men, and milk for babes; facts for the few, and fictions for the many; realities for the wise, and romances for the simple; esoteric truth for the philosopher, and exoteric fable for the fool.” Like the philosophy taught by this author in the work in question, the object of the Theosophical Society “is the cleansing of Spiritual truth.”
New York, January 20th, 1878