The Leaven of Theosophy
Theosophist, March, 1881
Those of us whose duty it is to watch the Theosophical movement and aid its progress can afford to be amused at the ignorant conceit displayed by certain journals in their criticisms upon our Society and its officers. Some seem to think that when they have flung their handful of dirt we must certainly be overwhelmed. One or two have even gone so far as, with mock sympathy, to pronounce us already hopelessly disrupted. It is a pity we cannot oblige them, but so it is, and they must make the best of the situation. Our Society as a body might certainly be wrecked by mismanagement or the death of its founders, but the idea which it represents and which has gained so wide a currency, will run on like a crested wave of thought until it dashes upon the hard beach where materialism is picking and sorting its pebbles. Of the thirteen persons who composed our first board of officers, in 1875, nine were Spiritualists of greater or less experience. It goes without saying, then, that the aim of the Society was not to destroy but to better and purify Spiritualism. The phenomena we knew to be real, and we believed them to be the most important of all current subjects for investigation. For, whether they should finally prove to be traceable to the agency of the departed, or but manifestations of occult natural forces acting in concert with latent psychophysiological human powers, they opened up a great field of research, the outcome of which must be enlightenment upon the master problem of life: Man and his Relations. We had seen phenomenalism running riot and twenty millions of believers clutching at one drifting theory after another in the hope to gain the truth. We had reason to know that the whole truth could only be found in one quarter, the Asiatic schools of philosophy, and we felt convinced that the truth could never be discovered until men of all races and creeds should join like brothers in the search. So taking our stand upon that ground, we began to point the way eastward.
Our first step was to lay down the proposition that, even admitting the phenomena to be real, they need not of necessity be ascribed to departed souls. We showed that there was ample historical evidence that such phenomena had from remotest times been exhibited by men who were not mediums, who repudiated the passivity exacted of mediums, and who simply claimed to produce them by cultivating inherent powers in their living selves. Hence the burden of proving that those wonders were and could only be done by the dead with the agency of passive medial agents, lay with the Spiritualists.
To deny our proposition involved either the repudiation of the testimony of the most trustworthy authorities in many countries and in different epochs, or the wholesale ascription of mediumship to every wonder-worker mentioned in history. The latter horn of the dilemma had been taken. Reference to the works of the most noted Spiritualistic writers, as well as to the newspaper organs of the movement, will show that the thaums, or “miracles” of every “magician,” saint, religious leader, and ascetic, from the Chaldæan Magians, the ancient Hindu saint, the Egyptian Jannes and Jambres, the Hebrew Moses and Jesus, and the Mussulman prophet, down to the Benares sannyâsî of M. Jacolliot, and the common fakir of to-day, who has made Anglo-Indian mouths gape with wonder, have each and all been spoken of as true mediumistic marvels. This was the best that could be done with a difficult subject, but it could not prevent Spiritualists from thinking. The more they have thought, read and compared notes, during the past five years, with those who have travelled in Asia and studied psychological science as a science, the more has the first acrid feeling against our Society abated. We noticed this change in the first issue of this magazine. After only five years of agitation, without abuse from us or any aggressive propagandism on our part, the leaven of this great truth has begun to work. It can be seen on every side. We are now kindly asked to show Europe and America experimental proofs of the correctness of our assertions. Little by little a body of persons, including some of the best minds in the movement, has come over to our side and many now cordially endorse our position: that there can be no spiritual intercourse either with the souls of the living or the dead, unless it is preceded by self-spiritualization, the conquest of the meaner self, the education of the nobler powers within us. The serious dangers, as well as the more evident gratifications of mediumship, are becoming gradually appreciated. Phenomenalism, thanks to the splendid works of Professor Zöllner, Mr. Crookes, Mr. Varley, and other able experimentalists, is tending towards its proper limits of a problem of science. There is a thoughtful and more and more earnest study of spiritual philosophy. We see this, not alone among the Spiritualists of Great Britain, Australasia and the United States, but also among the intellectual and numerous classes of the continental spiritists and the magnetists. Should nothing occur to break the present harmony and impede the progress of ideas, we may well expect, within another five years, to see the entire body of investigators of the phenomena of mesmerism and mediumism more or less imbued with a conviction that the greatest psychological truth in its most unadulterated form, can be found in the Indian Philosophies. And let it be remembered we ascribe this great result not to anything we few may personally have done or said, but to the gradual growth of a conviction that the experience of mankind and the lessons of the past can no longer be ignored.
It would be easy to fill many pages with extracts from the journalism of to-day that sustain the above views, but we forbear. Wherever these lines are read—and that will be by subscribers in almost every quarter of the globe—their truth will not be denied by impartial observers. Merely to show the tendency of things, let us take the following excerpts from the Spiritual Notes and the Revue Spirite, organs respectively of the spiritualist and the spiritist parties. The first says:
From certain delicate yet well-defined signs of the times we are led to believe that a great change is gradually passing over the spirit of that system which, for the last thirty years, has been called by the not altogether happy title of Modern Spiritualism. This change is observable, not perhaps so much in the popular aspect of the subject, which will doubtless always remain more or less one of sign and wonder. It is probably necessary that such should be the case. It is very likely a sine quâ non that there should always be a fringe of the purely marvellous to attract the criers of ” Lo here!” ” Lo there! ” from whose numbers the higher and inner circle of initiates may be from time to time recruited. It is here we discern the great value, with all their possible abuses, of physical manifestations, materializations, and the like. These form the alphabet of the neophyte. But the change which strikes us at the present moment is what we may call the rapid growth of the initiate class as opposed to the neophytes; the class of those who have quite grown out of the need of these sensible wonders (a need through which, however, they have duly passed) and who are prepared to pass to the sublimest heights of the spiritual philosophy. We cannot but regard this as an eminently happy sign, because it is the evidence of normal growth. We have had first the blade, then the ear, but now we have the full corn in the ear. Among the many evidences of this change we note two especially, each of which has been mentioned already in these columns in its single aspect. One is the publication of Dr. Wyld’s book on Christian Theosophy, the other the formation and development of the secret society called the Guild of the Holy Spirit. We are not prepared to commit ourselves to all the doctrines of Dr. Wyld’s book. The Guild would probably be too ecclesiastical in its structure for many of our readers—it is founded, we may mention, by a clergyman of the Church of England—but in each case we notice what is called a “levelling up.” We perceive that the paramount idea is not to call spirits from the vasty deep—not to force the hand of the spirit world, so to say, and to compel its denizens to come “down” or “up” to us, but so to regulate life as to open up the dormant sense on our side, and enable us to see those who are not in a land that is very far off, from which they have come up or down to us. This, we happen to know, is preëminently the case with the Guild, which, beginning by being regulative of life and worship, includes a margin for any amount of thaumaturgical element. We may not say more, but we may also point to every page of Dr. Wyld’s book as an indication of a similar method; and we notice the supervention of that method with much satisfaction. It will never be the popular method, but its presence, however secret, in our midst, will work like leaven, and affect the whole mass of “Modern Spiritualism.”