“Is it Idle to Argue Further”?
Theosophist, January, 1882
Says Light, in its “Notes by the Way,” edited by M.A. (Oxon):—
“The current number of The THEOSOPHIST contains an important manifesto, which establishes and defines the ground finally taken up by that body. Shortly put, it is one of complete antagonism to Spiritualism. The Spiritualist believes that it is possible for spirits of the departed to communicate with this earth. Whatever divergence of opinion there may be among us in respect of other matters, we are agreed on this, the cardinal article of our faith. Our daily experience affirms its truth. The con sentient testimony of the most experienced among us agrees that, whether there be, or whether there be not, other agencies at work, the spirits we know of are human spirits who have once lived on this earth. To this the Theosophist returns the simple answer that we are mistaken. No spirits communicate with earth for the sufficient reason that they cannot. It is idle to argue further. We can but go on our way with the assured conviction that, whatever may be the case in the east, we find that the departed spirits of mankind are both able and willing to communicate with us in the west. And no metaphysical theorizing as to what cannot be disposes in any degree of what is.”
The THEOSOPHIST is forced to take exception to the form of statement of “facts” above used. As it now stands, it is but a short series of speculative deductions from the very superficially defined doctrines in our ” Fragments of Occult Truth,” which give a by no means complete idea of what is really taught in the doctrine, scraps of which were explained in the article now most incorrectly styled a “manifesto.” We regret the necessity to contradict once more our esteemed opponent, who seems to be giving Up the Theosophists in despair. But were we also to conclude it “idle to argue further,” then the position taken Up by us would, indeed, give rise again to endless misinterpretations. The question of man’s state after death, the future progress of his soul, spirit and other principles—whatever anyone may call them—was hardly touched upon in the short article under our critic’s notice. In itself the subject embraces a field of boundless extent and of the most metaphysical intricacy, one which would demand volumes of commentaries and explanations to be thoroughly sifted and understood. Yet superficially sketched as our ideas may have been in the “Fragments”—which was but an answer to the direct questions, not to say reproaches, of an esteemed brother, resident in Australia—we nevertheless fail to detect in it such passages or ideas as justify M.A. (Oxon) in saying that our doctrine is “one of complete antagonism to Spiritualism.” It is not half so antagonistic as he believes it to be, as we will try to prove.
“The Spiritualist believes that it is possible for spirits of the departed to communicate with this earth,” says the writer . . . “and to this the Theosophist returns the simple answer that we are mistaken.” In this sentence alone, as a kernel in a nut-shell, lies hidden the reason of that partial antagonism. Had M.A. (Oxon) slightly modifying the construction of the above-quoted sentence—written instead that “it is possible for spirits yet embodied on this earth to communicate with the spirits of the departed”—then would there have been hardly any antagonism at all to deplore. What we hold and do maintain is that all of the so-called “physical phenomena,” and “materializations” especially, are produced by something, to which we refuse the name of “spirit.” In the words of the President of our Berhampore Branch 1 (Babu Nobin Krishna Banerjee, President of the Adhi Bhautic Bhratru Theosophical Society): “We, Hindus (and along with them the European disciples of Eastern philosophy) are trying to spiritualize our grosser material selves, while the American and European Spiritualists are endeavouring in their séance-rooms to materialize Spirits.” These words of wisdom well show the opposite tendencies of the Eastern and the Western minds—namely, that while the former are trying to purify matter, the latter do their best to degrade Spirit. Therefore what we say is, that ninety-nine times out of one hundred, “materializations” so-called, when genuine, (and whether they be partial of complete), are produced by what we call “shells,” and occasionally, perhaps, by the living medium’s astral body—but certainly never, in our humble opinion, by “disembodied” spirits themselves.
While we sincerely regret this divergence of opinions with Light, we feel inclined to smile at the naïveté of some other Spiritualist opponents; as, for instance, at that of the editor of the London Spiritualist, who, in his leading editorial of November 18, entitled “Speculation-Spinning,” 2 calls the scraps of occult doctrine given in our “Fragments” “unscientific,” reproaching the writer (than whom there is no abler metaphysician, nor closer or more acute and clever logician among Anglo-Indian writers) with a want of “scientific method” in the presentation of his facts! At the same time, the editorial informs us that by “facts” it does not “necessarily mean physical facts, for there are demonstrable truths outside the realms of physics.” Precisely. And it is upon just such “facts,” the existence of which is based for us upon evidence which we “have weighed and examined” for ourselves, that we maintain the demonstrability of the deductions and final conclusions at which we have arrived. These we preach but to those who really want to know them. As none, they say, are so blind as they who will not see, we abstain from offering our doctrines to such as find them offensive—among whom are some Spiritualists. But to the masses of impartial readers whose minds are not yet wedded to this or that theory, we present our facts and tell them to see, hear and judge for themselves; and there have been some who have not found our theories merely “speculation-spinning,” based upon hypotheses and the crass sentimentalism of a faith—welcome, because of its implied promises of a life hereafter—but theories resting upon the logical and stern deduction from facts, which constitute in themselves a knowledge. Now, what are these facts, and what do they show and teach us? First of all, and as a rule—the rare exceptions to which but confirm it the more—we find that the so-called “disembodied spirits,” instead of becoming the wiser for being rid of the physiological impediments and the restraints of their gross material senses, would seem to have become far more stupid, far less perspicacious and, in every respect, worse than they were during their earthly life. Secondly, we have to take note of the frequent contradictions and absurd blunders; of the false information offered, and the remarkable vulgarity and commonplace exhibited during their interviews with mortals;—in materializing séances their oral utterances being invariably vulgar common-place, and their inspirational speeches or second-hand communication through trance and other mediums frequently so. Adding to this the undeniable fact which shows their teachings reflecting most faithfully the special creed, views, and thoughts of the sensitive or medium used by them, or of a sitter or sitters, we have already sufficient proof to show that our theory, that they are “shells” and not disembodied spirits at all, is far more logical and “scientific” than that of the Spiritualists. 3 Speaking here in general, we need not take into consideration exceptional cases, instances of undeniable spiritual identity with which we are sure to find our arguments met by our spiritual opponents. No one ever thought of calling “Imperator +” a “shell”; but then the latter, whether a living or a disembodied spirit, neither materializes himself objectively, nor is it yet proved to the satisfaction of anyone except M.A. (Oxon) himself that “he” descends to the medium, instead of the spirit of the latter ascending to meet his instructor.
Thus, we maintain that “spirits” are no more what they claim to be, than the chrysalis shell is the butterfly which left it. That their personations of various individuals, whom they sometimes represent, are mostly due to the accidental contact of an “Elementary” or Eidolon (attracted by the medium and the intense magnetic desire of the circle present) with the personal aura of this or another individual. The thoughts of the latter, the various acts and scenes in his past life, the familiar and beloved faces of his departed ones, are then all drawn out of the all-containing depths of the Astral Light and utilized. At times this is done successfully, but frequently the thing proves a total failure. Only while the former are, as a rule, recorded, the mention of the latter is tacitly avoided;—no spiritualistic journal having ever been edited with that special view. So much for materialization and physical phenomena. As for the rest, we are at one with the Spiritualists with but slight variances, more of form than of substance. What we believe in, is pretty well defined in the editorial 4 which precedes the article “Church and Congress and Spiritualism” in our December issue (see p. 55 Vol. III), and need not be again enumerated.
1. Babu Nobin Krishna Banerjee, President of the Adhi Bhontic Bhratrn Theosophical Society.
2. To be answered in our February Number, Ed.
3. We will not go to the trouble of showing how much, or rather how little, of “scientific method” is to be generally found in The Spiritualist. But while speaking of science and its methods, we may simply remark that though both our theories (theosophical and spiritualistic) are sure to be viewed by the men of science as “speculation-spinning” and metaphysical windmills, yet the hypotheses of Spiritualists—as broadly accepted and whether “scientifically” or unscientifically stated—are certain to be pronounced by the majority of men of real science, not merely unscientific, but very unphilosophical and illogical as well.
4. See “Spiritualism and the Christian Churches”. [ED.]