The Drift of Western Spiritualism
Theosophist, October, 1879
Late advices from various parts of the world seem to indicate that, while there is an increasing interest in the phenomena of spiritualism, especially among eminent men of science, there is also a growing desire to learn the views of the Theosophists. The first impulse of hostility has nearly spent itself, and the moment approaches when a patient hearing will be given to our arguments. This was foreseen by us from the beginning. The founders of our Society were mainly veteran Spiritualists, who had outgrown their first amazement at the strange phenomena, and felt the necessity to investigate the laws of mediumship to the very bottom. Their reading of mediaeval and ancient works upon the occult sciences had shown them that our modern phenomena were but repetitions of what had been seen, studied, and comprehended in former epochs. In the biographies of ascetics, mystics, theurgists, prophets, ecstatics; of astrologers, “diviners,” “magicians,” “sorcerers,” and other students, subjects, or practitioners of the Occult Power in its many branches, they found ample evidence that Western Spiritualism could only be comprehended by the creation of a science of Comparative Psychology. By a like synthetic method the philologists, under the lead of Eugéne Burnouf, had unlocked the secrets of religious and philological heredity, and exploded Western theological theories and dogmas until then deemed impregnable.
Proceeding in this spirit, the Theosophists thought they discovered some reasons to doubt the correctness of the spiritualistic theory that all the phenomena of the circles must of necessity be attributed solely to the action of spirits of our deceased friends. The ancients knew and classified other supracorporeal entities that are capable of moving objects, floating the bodies of mediums through the air, giving apparent tests of the identity of dead persons, and controlling sensitives to write and speak strange languages, paint pictures, and play on unfamiliar musical instruments. And not only knew them, but showed how these invisible powers might be controlled by man, and made to work these wonders at his bidding. They found, moreover, that there were two sides of Occultism—a good and an evil side; and that it was a dangerous and fearful thing for the inexperienced to meddle with the latter,—dangerous to our moral as to our physical nature. The conviction forced itself upon their minds, then, that while the weird wonders of Spiritualism were among the most important of all that could be studied, mediumship, without the most careful attention to every condition, was fraught with peril.
Thus thinking, and impressed with the great importance of a thorough knowledge of mesmerism and all other branches of Occultism, these founders established the Theosophical Society, to read, inquire, compare, study, experiment and expound, the mysteries of Psychology. This range of inquiry, of course, included an investigation of Vedic, Brahmanical and other ancient Oriental literature; for in that—especially the former, the grandest repository of wisdom ever accessible to humanity—lay the entire mystery of nature and of man. To comprehend modern mediumship it is, in short, indispensable to familiarize oneself with the Yoga Philosophy; and the aphorisms of Patanjali are even more essential than the “Divine Revelations” of Andrew Jackson Davis. We can never know how much of the mediumistic phenomena we must attribute to the disembodied, until it is settled how much can be done by the embodied, human soul, and the blind but active powers at work within those regions which are yet unexplored by science. Not even proof of an existence beyond the grave, if it must come to us in a phenomenal shape. This will be conceded without qualification, we think, provided that the records of history be admitted as corroborating the statements we have made.
The reader will observe that the primary issue between the theosophical and spiritualistic theories of mediumistic phenomena is that the Theosophists say the phenomena may be produced by more agencies than one, and the latter that but one agency can be conceded, namely—the disembodied souls. There are other differences—as, for instance, that there can be such a thing as the obliteration of the human individuality as the result of very evil environment; that good spirits seldom, if ever, cause physical “manifestations”; etc. But the first point to settle is the one here first stated; and we have shown how and in what directions the Theosophists maintain that the investigations should be pushed.
Our East Indian readers, unlike those of Western countries who may see these lines, do not know how warmly and stoutly these issues have been debated, these past three or four years. Suffice it to say that, a point having been reached where arguments seemed no longer profitable, the controversy ceased; and that the present visit of the New York Theosophists, and their establishment of the Bombay Headquarters, with the library, lectures, and this journal, are its tangible results. That this step must have a very great influence upon Western psychological science is apparent. Whether our Committee are themselves fully competent to observe and properly expound Eastern Psychology or not, no one will deny that Western Science must inevitably be enriched by the contributions of the Indian, Sinhalese, and other mystics who will now find in THE THEOSOPHIST a channel by which to reach European and American students of Occultism, such as was never imagined, not to say seen, before. It is our earnest hope and belief that after the broad principles of our Society, its earnestness, and exceptional facilities for gathering Oriental wisdom are well understood, it will be better thought of than now by Spiritualists, and attract into its fellowship many more of their brightest and best intellects.
Theosophy can be styled the enemy of Spiritualism with no more propriety than of Mesmerism, or any other branch of Psychology. In this wondrous outburst of phenomena that the Western world has been seeing since 1848, is presented such an opportunity to investigate the hidden mysteries of being as the world has scarcely known before. Theosophists only urge that these phenomena shall be studied so thoroughly that our epoch shall not pass away with the mighty problem unsolved. Whatever obstructs this—whether the narrowness of sciolism, the dogmatism of theology or the prejudice of any other class, should be swept aside as something hostile to the public interest. Theosophy, with its design to search back into historic records for proof, may be regarded as the natural outcome of phenomenalistic Spiritualism, or as a touchstone to show the value of its pure gold. One must know both to comprehend what is Man.