Spirit Identity and Recent Speculations
Theosophist, July, 1883
Editorial Note by H.P.B. on an article by “M. A. (Oxon.)”
Of all the Spiritualists, “M.A. (Oxon),” is the last to whose arguments we would like to take exception, or whose ideas we would try to combat, for he is a friend long and highly esteemed. Yet we must perforce join issues with him, since we have the strongest conviction (we avoid saying knowledge lest we should be called dogmatic) that on some points he is as thoroughly mistaken as any ordinary mortal unblessed with his remarkable power of discrimination. Besides our own personal regard for him, there never was a believer entitled to more serious and considerate hearing than the author of “Psychography,” “Spirit Identity,” and other like most excellent works upon psychology. The task becomes the more difficult when one is reminded of the fact that “M. A. (Oxon),” is not a writer merely advocating spiritualistic hypothesis upon second-hand evidence; nor some enthusiastic supporter of promiscuous “spirit visitors” and new phenomena, but the earnest recorder and careful annotator of his own personal dealings with so-called “Spirits,” over a series of many years.
But we become braver when we think that, without having the presumption of claiming equal clearness of style or his remarkable ability in the laying out of that, which to him is direct but to the public still presumptive evidence, we also argue from personal experience; and that unlike the theory he has wedded himself to, our doctrine is backed by the teachings of all the philosophies of old, and moreover by the collective experience of men who have devoted their lives to study the occult side of nature. Thus, our testimony may also have some weight, at any rate—with unbiassed minds. And we say, that in the eyes of the latter, our theory in applicability to our facts, will—at least with regard to the “John Lilly” case—appear far more reasonable, and will clash less with probability than would the acceptance of the common spiritualistic theory.
To begin with, we are constrained to point out that “M. A. (Oxon)’s” chief argument with regard to theosophy, is not only palpably incorrect but extremely unfair in one sense. He tells us that “we [the spiritualists?] have a right to apply to our investigations the ordinary scientific method, which is not to theorize and then gather facts to support the bubble we have blown, but to amass facts with laborious persistence until it is possible to generalize from them with some show of fairness.” We remind him in reply that the spiritualistic theory of the return of the departed spirits is as old as the first knocks at Rochester, i.e., thirty-five years, and that if anyone is to stand accused of having blown a bubble before there were facts enough to hang upon them one single straw, it is not the Theosophists but precisely the Spiritualists. We are quite aware that it is not “M. A. (Oxon)” who was the first to give a name to the agency behind the facts; but however unwilling to accept the a priori theory—and in the case of the spiritualists “a rigid dogma which is to be binding on us as a matter of faith” from first to last indeed—he seems to have accepted it, nevertheless, and now maintains and defends from the slightest approach of any dissenting doctrine. If we are told that he does so on very good grounds, having found no (theosophical occult) theory that was not at open variance with some ascertained facts, or “that did not break down when tested”—we answer that if such is his experience, ours is quite the reverse. Besides, it is rather difficult to conceive how a theory can be proved an axiomatic truth so long as only such facts as answer our purpose are applied to it. “M. A. (Oxon)” was never an occultist, and knows yet nothing of the means used to test the various sets of phenomena—and the “spirits” themselves for the matter of that. Whereas there is hardly a theosophist that has now turned an occultist but was a spiritualist before, and some of them as ardent and as uncompromising as “M.A. (Oxon)” himself. Colonel H. S. Olcott was one for about a quarter of a century; and the writer of this, who along with all her family was bred and brought up in the belief of returning “souls” (the great orthodox church inclining to class all of these with evil or “damned” souls—making no difference in the theory) was even until some thirty years or so back far more inclined—occult doctrines notwithstanding—toward the spiritualistic than the occultistic views. We were at one time as ardent a spiritualist as any. No one clung more tenaciously, nay more desperately, to the last straw of that hopeful and happy illusion, which promises the bliss of eternal personal reunion with all those nearest and dearest that one has lost—than did we. One year in America during one of our visits to that country, and a terrible personal ordeal, killed that vain hope and settled our knowledge forever. It needed the death of two persons —the most dearly beloved relatives—to bury for ever the sweet delusive dream. We have learned by experience since to put implicit faith in our teachers; to discern between objective shells, men that were—and subjective genuine spirits; between elementaries (victims of accident, and suicides) and elementals—men that will be. And we think we have now learned even the difference between the “Brothers of the Light,” to use the graphic Eastern expression, and the “Brothers of the Shadow”—both in the supra- and sub-mundane spheres, as well as to recognize between the two classes of the same name on our earthly plane. There are Spirits and Spirits; High Planetary Spirits (Dhyan Chohans) who have been human beings millions of ages since and upon other besides our own planet, and there are the mayavic appearances of these, projected upon the intra-psychic screen of our mediumistic, hence confused, perceptions. There are seers and there are mediums, as there are great men of science and willing and sincere, but ignorant tyros. And it is unfair in “M. A. (Oxon)” to represent the theosophists as prescribing “rigid dogmas” and blind faith, especially when a few lines higher he invalidates his accusation by putting in the mouths of his opponents, addressing the spiritualists, that which represents the correct attitude of the former: “It is extremely unlikely that you are right in your suppositions. It is not impossible, indeed, but very unlikely,” etc., etc.—we are made to say—words conveying the very opposite of dogmatism.
But we must be now permitted to analyze the cited case; to see whether “John Lilly” could not have performed all that is claimed for him while his monad was in the Devachanic or other states—from which there is no coming back on earth, in our views, which indeed we force on no one who prefers his own theory. Why could not his shell, which, notwithstanding Mr. Morse’s very witty definition (though wit is surely no proof) that it is “something that walks about with nothing inside it,” have had all it had on earth to make up its seeming personality, i.e., its illusive ego, with its grosser personal consciousness, and memory, refreshed and reanimated into momentary activity at every contact with a living medium’s brain molecules?1 Why could not that “shell,” we ask, and though “many and many a decade has now elapsed since John Lilly left this earth,” have communicated for years with “M. A. (Oxon)” though chiefly through the table? Spiritualists who lay such a stress upon, and point with such a triumph to the Bible, when corroborating with its stories of angels and apparitions, the claimed materialization of spirits, ought not to lose sight of, and conveniently forget when speaking of “empty shells,” the “Rephaim” of the Jews—which people their Sheol or Hades. Is not the literal meaning of “Rephaim” pithless or “empty” shades, and is not the Sheol our Kamaloka?
Nor does this fact clash with our theory, while it does clash with that of the spiritualists. Besides it being far more likely that a real genuine disembodied spirit would have avoided communicating “through a table,” when he had at his disposal a fine medium’s clairvoyance and spiritual consciousness, how is it that the familiar sound of his presence “died out” gradually and not abruptly, as might be the case with a “spirit” who had a real mission to perform, who “meant business,” and went away honestly and openly after having performed it? Does not this gradual dying out of the alleged presence dovetail perfectly with our theory of the gradual fading out of the shell? Why should an everlasting semi-material, quite conscious entity use such eccentric ways? And why, since “John Lilly” was an old friend, and meant—if there was anyone there to mean anything—to recall himself to the memory of “M. A. (Oxon),” why did he not speak, or “rap out,” honestly and say what he wanted, instead of keeping our friend semi-awake and repeatedly disturbing his sleep by raps and noises at the risk of giving him a bad headache? “Was he unable to do more? or was it not permitted to him?” asks the writer. “Permitted!” and by whom or what, we wonder? As well expect that the poisonous particles that one is liable to catch in a room where a smallpox patient died, that they should tell the name of him in whom they were generated or explain their business. “John Lilly” had impregnated with his emanations the room for years, and a portion at any rate of the personal consciousness of a disembodied and even of a living being lingers and will linger for hundreds of decades on the spot he identified himself with, a good proof of it being found in many instances that could be cited. In the apparition, for instance, for years of the astral simulacrum of a titled lunatic in a room in which he had been confined for nine years. Occasional wild cries were heard in it—the servants recognizing the familiar cry and the doctor testifying to it under oath at the inquest made in this case by the police in one of the capital cities of Southern Russia. Whose simulacrum was it, and whose voice? Of the lunatic? But the man had recovered and was at that time living again with his family at Penza, the universal theory becoming of course under the handling of good christians and clergy that it was the unholy tricks of the Evil One. Moreover the ex-patient who had heard of the terrific news of his own bodily appearance in the room where he had raved for so many years, insisted upon returning to the spot and exposing the fraud of his enemies—as he called it. Travelling there, under protest of his family and doctor, he arrived, determined that he should pass the night in his ancient room, and permitting with great difficulty that his friend, the said doctor, should remain and keep him company. Result:—his own double was seen by himself and doctor, the cries were heard louder than ever, and when at dawn the room was entered by the physician of the asylum and inmates, M. C. * * was found once more a raving lunatic, and his friend in a deadly swoon. The case was officially authenticated at the time and may be found in the police records if searched, as it happened between 1840 and 1850.
Now let us suppose that instead of recovering and leaving the asylum, the man had died there. Who of the spiritualists would ever doubt but that was his “spirit” howling and his “Mayavi-rupa” in propria persona there? It is on a number of such instances, and our own personal experiences during over forty years—ten of which were passed in a state very like, if not entirely, that of mediumship, until by a supreme effort of will and with the help of initiated friends, we got rid of it, that we speak so confidently. Yet our experience is our own, and we would no more ask anyone to believe us on our word, than we would stake the faith of our whole life on that of another person. There was no “personating spirit, posturing as John Lilly.” But there probably was the elementary shell of John Lilly, fading, perhaps on the eve of being entirely faded out, yet capable of being once more galvanized into producing audible sounds by the presence of one on whose organism it had been living for several years. When this organism came once more in contact with the reliquiæ it proved like a galvanic shock to a dead corpse.
Nor is it right to say that “the more subtle Eastern philosopher will apply that explanation which he derives, not from his experience (for he shrinks from actual meddling with those whom he regards as wandering shades) . . . but from his philosophical speculations”; for the “Eastern philosopher” does nothing of the kind. It is but the incipient “philosopher,” the as yet uninitiated student who is forbidden to meddle with wandering shades, a meddling which, to him, is full of danger. The real philosopher studies the various natures of these invisible agencies in the full possession of his physical consciousness and senses, as much though not as well as in the still fuller consciousness of his spiritual senses, when he paralyses his body, with its deceptive suggestions, and puts it out of its power to impede the clearness of his spiritual sight. “And cases of the kind” (narrated by M. A. Oxon) . . . do “occur in the East” as much as, and more, perhaps, than in the West. But were it even so, the Christian kabalists have believed in, and given out the very same doctrine on shells as we do now. If our friends will refer to The Three Books of Occult Philosophy by Cornelius Agrippa, they will find him propounding just the very same tenets. In the chapter “What concerning man after death; diverse opinions,” we find the following, given very fully and explicitly in Agrippa’s original manuscripts, and very cursorily by his translator, Henry Morley. Leaving out what Trithemius, Henry Khunrath, Paracelsus and other great Occultists, may have said on the subject, we will quote a few lines from the translation in question made by a sceptic:
“Perceptions of the truth exist in the opinions of the ancients . . . yet do the kabalists refuse the doctrine of Pythagoras2 that souls which have become bestial take bestial forms they say; on the contrary, that they return to earth in human frames. . . . Sometimes the souls of the wicked reanimate their polluted corpses. . . . But when the body returns earth to earth, the spirit returns to God . . . and this spirit is the mind [the monad, the Buddhi] the pure intelligence that was incapable of sin while in the flesh, however sinned against by passions of the soul and gross delusions of the body. Then if the soul [personal Ego, the Manas] has lived justly it accompanies the mind, and soul and mind together work in the world the righteous . . . But the souls that have done evil, parted after death from the mind, wander without intelligence [our shells], subject to all the wild distresses of unregulated passion, and by the affinity they have acquired for the grossness of corporeal matter, assimilate themselves and condense, as in a fog, material particles [materialize?], through which they become sensible again of bodily pain and discomfort . . . souls after death [separated from their spiritual Ego, if you please] remember the past, and retain according to their nature more or less of attraction towards the bodies they inhabited, or other flesh and blood [the mediums, evidently]. This is most true of those souls whose bodies are unburied, or were subject to violence [the suicides and victims to accident; see Fragments of Occult Truth]; . . . there are two kinds of necromancy— necyomantia, when a corpse is animated; scyomantia, when only a shade is summoned. But for the reunion of souls with bodies occult knowledge is required” . . .
Again in the next chapter:
“Now the mind only is, by nature, divine, eternal; the reason is airy, durable; the idolum, more corporeal, left to itself, perishes.”
Which means as plain as it can mean that the “mind” here standing for the 6th and 7th principles, Atman and Buddhi, or “Spirit and Spiritual soul” or Intelligence, “reason” stands for that spiritual essence, the portion of the personal consciousness, or “soul that accompanies the mind” (Manas following Buddhi to Devachan). What Agrippa calls the “idolum” (the eidolon) we call the astral shell, or the “Elementary.”
The above quotations, though strengthening our claims, will of course have no effect upon the spiritualists, and are penned for the sole benefit of our Theosophists. We invite, moreover, their attention to the article directly following—“Spirit Identity and Recent Speculations,” in the same number of Light (April 28th, 1883)— “A Haunted House,” by J. C. A charming, simple, unpretentiously told story, bearing every mark of sincerity and genuineness upon its face. What do we find in it? A loving wife, a mother losing her husband in a house that was haunted before they had come to live in it. Loud noises and crashes without any cause for them. Footsteps produced by invisible feet upon the stairs, and mysterious voices, words proceeding from ghostly lips. The husband—apparently a good and loving husband—is a passionate lover of music. He dies. In the night following his death, the piano begins softly playing. “I recognized the music—it was the last piece my husband had composed impromptu,” writes the widow. Well and good. The kabalists recognize the possibility of this, and give explanations for it. But that which comes next, is not of so easy a solution on the spiritual theory, unless we are asked to believe that good men, loving fathers, and tender husbands become heartless fiends and malicious spooks after their death.
In the words of the narrator, the relations were surprised at the widow’s cheerfulness. They “attributed it to want of natural feeling, little thinking how full of gladness I was to know that there was a great hereafter, for his newborn radiant spirit.” Now whence that knowledge and what were the undeniable proofs of that “grand hereafter?”
First—“a knock” after the funeral. But there had been such knocks before in the house! The children heard often “papa speak to them.” The children will always hear and see, what their seniors will tell them they hear and see. The eldest boy was put to sleep in the room where his parent had died without however knowing it. “In the night,” writes the widow, “the boy frightened us all by a terrible scream. They all found him sitting up in bed, pale with fright. Someone had touched him on his shoulder and awoke him.” Next night the same thing, “someone touched him again.” Third night the same in another room; “two or three times he aroused the whole school, and when he was on a visit during the holidays he also cried out in the night.” A friend on a visit “felt her bedclothes pulled. The noises at last affected her nervous system, and she left. . . without any stated reason. Soon after the servant was taken ill” owing to the ghostly visits and misbehaviour and—“had to be sent away.” So much in the experience of a boy whom his loving father’s spirit frightened nightly into fits, at the risk of making an epileptic or an idiot of his son for the natural term of his life. So much for the friends, servants and visitors of his loving widow. Then one night . . . but we will let the bereaved wife tell her own tale.
“After the little ones were all asleep, in the happy rest of infancy, I wandered over the house, peering cautiously into every nook, half expecting to see a robber concealed ready to pounce out on me. I was about to retire for the night, when I remembered that I had not looked in my deceased husband’s study. I lighted a candle, and taking the latch-key I went in. All was quiet; but suddenly a breeze seemed to sweep round the chamber, blew out my light, and shut the door! I stood for a moment numbed with terror; I felt my hair stand on end; the dampness of fear bathed my forehead. I could not cry out, all power seemed gone, and a throng of ghastly fancies filled my brain; reason itself seemed to desert me. I fell on my knees and asked the “Father of Spirit” to set me free. I then made for the door, felt the lock, and in a moment was outside. It shut with a bang!
“I ran down to where my children were, and locking myself in lay down in my clothes. All was quiet for a time, when I heard a noise like the sound of a gong strike against the window bars; then a rumbling, accompanied by knocks and voices. My little boy awoke and said: ‘What is that noise?’ I told him not to mind but to go to sleep, which he soon did. I then heard my husband’s voice call my eldest child by name and tell her to go to the railway station. Then he said to me: ‘Come up here.’ I answered him, and said: ‘I cannot, I wish to live for my children’s sake.’ The doors all over the house slammed, and footsteps passed up and downstairs, continuing till daybreak.”
Now we ask in the name of logic and reason whether this behaviour night after night, is more compatible with that of the human and presumably good spirit of a husband and father, or with that of a half crazy shell! What sophistry is required to excuse it in the former, and how natural the why’s of the phenomenal manifestations if the occult theory be accepted! The shell has no more to do with the liberated monad of the good and pure man than would the shadow of a man with the latter’s body, could it be suddenly endowed with speech and the faculty of repeating what it finds in the people’s brain.
“M. A. (Oxon)” closes, as seen above in his article, with the assurance that in writing as he does he is only desirous of making one more contribution to the study of a perplexing subject. “He is far from desiring to obtrude his opinion.” Yet, at the same time he devotes three and a half columns to proving that the theosophic teachings are “bubbles” based upon air, probably only because our facts do not square with his facts. We can assure our kind friend that the occultists are far less desirous than he can ever be of obtruding their opinion upon unwilling minds, or of criticizing those of other people. But where their theories are attacked, they answer and can give as good facts as he can himself. Occult philosophy rests upon the accumulated psychic facts of thousands of years. Spiritualism is but thirty-five years old, and has not as yet produced one recognized non-mediumistic adept.
1. The medium often need not know anything or have even heard the name of his “Spirit” visitor. His brain in this case plays simply the part of a galvanic battery upon a dying or even dead man’s body.
2. Which was never properly understood, for it was an allegorical teaching like that of the Brahmanical books.