Some Rough Studies of the Occult Leanings of the Poets.
The Path, November, 1886
Perhaps no passage in Light on the Path is more forcible than that which warns the disciple against allowing the idea of separateness from any evil thing or person to grow up within him. He is bidden to “be wary, lest too soon you fancy yourself a thing apart from the mass.” The Bhagavad-Gita utters the same truth in other words by picturing man as led astray by the pride of self-sufficiency and the great danger underlying the desires and passions of the individual soul. Throughout life the student of occultism daily renews the struggle of soul against flesh, of faith against desire. This combat is finely pictured in Tennyson’s Palace of Art. It is truly an occult palace. Four courts are made, east, west, south and north, with a squared lawn in each, and four great fountains “stream in misty folds.” Here we are reminded of the Garden of Eden with its four rivers, of which Eliphas Levi says: “this description of the terrestrial paradise is resumed in the figure of a perfect pentacle. It is circular or square, since it is equally watered by four rivers disposed in a cross.” The square, answering to the number four was indeed the great kabbalistic figure, representing the Trinity in Unity. Nor is the mystic circle wanting in our occult palace, for there are “cool rows of circling cloisters” about the squares, and a gilded gallery that “lent broad verge to distant lands,” and “incense streaming from a golden cup,” another mystic symbol, representing the passive or negative side of nature. Full of sumptuousness was this palace, built for the soul that she might dwell in sensuous luxury, remote from the struggling world. Then the poet shows us further into the recesses of his sweet thought, and we see in the pictures with which the palace was hung, a portrayal of the various life experiences of the soul as it passes from phase to phase, from room to room of this great palace which is human life.
“Full of great rooms and small the palace stood,
All various, each a perfect whole
From living nature, fit for every mood
And change of my still soul.”
From high estate to low the soul thus passes, from a “glimmering land” to “iron coast and angry wave;” from uplands of toil and harvest, to the “high bleak crags of sorrow,” from Greece and Sicily to India or the North, until “every landscape, as fit for every mood was there, not less than truth designed,” a rich panorama of re-incarnations. Amongst all these the soul moves joyful and feasting, “Lord of the senses five,” communing with herself that all these are her own in the “God-like isolation which is hers.”
“Then of the moral instinct would she prate,
And of the rising from the dead,
As hers by right of full-accomplished Fate,
And at the last she said:
I take possession of man’s mind and deed.
I care not what the sects may brawl.
I sit as God, holding no form of creed
But contemplating all.”
So three years she throve and prospered, but in the fourth year, (mark again the occult number of perfection,) a great dread came upon her, she was plagued in “the abysmal deeps of personality” with a sore despair. The moment of choice, the turning point had come, that period of which Esoteric Buddhism speaks as occurring for the race in the fifth round but to which some exceptional personalities have forced themselves in this our fourth round. Many occultists will see their own experience mirrored in that of this tormented and lonely soul, contemplating her “palace of strength whereof the foundation stones were laid since her first memory,” only to see in its dark corners, “uncertain shapes, horrible nightmares, white-eyed phantasms and hollow shades enclosing hearts of flame.” Do we not seem to see all the elemental world, led on by the dread Dweller of the Threshold here confronting us? The struggle is even more powerfully depicted but the lesson is learned; the soul may retrieve herself by a lowly life: she throws aside her royal robes, and recognizing the need of mixing with her kind, begs for a “cottage in the vale.”
The poet reserves for his last verse the final lesson that only when we lead others to the heights and share these with our kind, can we ourselves stand steadfast there:
“Yet pull not down my palace towers, that are
So lightly, beautifully built;
Perchance I may return with others there
When I have purged my guilt.”
A footnote in the September PATH states: “After all, the whole process of development is the process of getting back the memory of the past. And that too is the teaching found in pure Buddhism, etc.” Sometimes we are conscious of vague callings to do a certain thing, and critically regarding ourselves, we cannot see in this life any cause. It seems the bugle note of a past life blown almost in our face: it startles us; sometimes we are overthrown. These memories affect us like the shadows of passing clouds across our path, now tangible; then fading, only a cloud. Now they start before us like phantoms, or like a person behind you as you look at a mirror, it looks over the shoulder. If they are indeed reminiscences of other lives, although dead and past, they yet have a power. Hear what Lowell whispers in “The Twilight” of these mysterious moments:
“Sometimes a breath floats by me,
An odor from Dreamland sent,
Which makes the ghost seem nigh me
Of a something that came and went,
Of a life lived somewhere, I know not
In what diviner sphere.
Of mem’ries that come not and go not;
Like music once heard by an ear
That cannot forget or reclaim it;
A something so shy, it would shame it
To make it a show.
A something too vague, could I name it.
For others to know:
As though I had lived it and dreamed it,
As though I had acted and schemed it
And yet, could I live it over,
This Life which stirs in my brain;
Could I be both maiden and lover,
Moon and tide, bee and clover,
As I seem to have been, once again.
Could I but speak and show it.
This pleasure more sharp than pain.
Which baffles and lures me so!
The world would not lack a poet,
Such as it had
In the ages glad,
Emerson, who saw further into the world of nature than any poet of our race, gives us this:
“And as through dreams in watches of the night.
So through all creatures in their form and ways,
Some mystic hint accosts the vigilant.
Not clearly voiced, but waking a new sense.
Inviting to new knowledge, one with old.”
The hermetic maxim, “As above so below,” sends us indeed to nature for initiation, and the Gita follows up this nail with a hammer by saying: “The man, O Arjuna, who from what passeth in his own breast, whether it be pain or pleasure, beholdeth the same in others, is esteemed a supreme Yogi.” Analogy, Harmony. Unity, these are the words traced over and over for us, the shining rays of the one Law. These are the thoughts in which the poets delight. Emerson speaks again with still clearer voice:
“Brother, sweeter is the Law
Than all the grace Love ever saw,
If the Law should thee forget,
More enamored serve it yet.
* * * * *
* * I found this;
That of goods I could not miss
If I fell within the line;
Once a member, all was mine:
Houses, banquets, gardens, fountains,
Fortune’s delectable mountains.
But if I would walk alone
Was neither cloak nor crumb my own.”
The Biblical verse: “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” is a great occult teaching. As we strengthen the muscles by exercise, so we enlarge the intelligence and the heart by constantly dispensing our means, whether these be golden thoughts, or time, or affections, all along the line of Brotherhood. Not because of a sentiment, but because Life is made up of vibrations which our scientists, cautious as they are, admit may affect the farthest stars.
“Like warp and woof, all destinies
Are woven fast,
Linked in sympathy, like the keys
Of an organ vast.
Pluck but one thread, and the web ye mar;
Break but one of a thousand keys, and the paining jar
Through all will run.”
This from Whittier reminds us of the lines on Karma in Light on the Path.
“Remember that the threads are living,—are like electric wires, more, are like quivering nerves. How far, then, must the stain, the drag awry, be communicated.”
Yes, the communion of saints is a living fact. We all commune, not alone with one another; with those above us and with those below, but essentially with our time. Not one of us can escape its influence: we oppose its conclusions, deny its powers, and meanwhile it speaks through us, without our knowledge, the passwords we do not yet understand. This “dark age” is still the birth-place of spiritual development, of an awakening belief in the supernatural, or that which overshadows nature. We have had no more safe, practical sober poet than Whittier, who sweetly sings the life of every day, when he is not stirred by the fret of the times, to Freedoms larger issues. Yet hear him describing the power of a “wizard”:
“All the subtle spirits hiding
Under earth or wave; abiding
In the caverned rock, or riding
Misty clouds, or morning breeze.
Every dark intelligence,
Secret soul, and influence
Of all things, which outward sense
Feels, or hears, or sees,—
These the wizard’s skill confessed.—”
Is not here an “outward sense” of Professor Denton’s discoveries of the “soul of things?” But hear further the poet’s confession of faith in the occult power of will:
“Not untrue that tale of old!
Now as then, the wise and bold
All the powers of nature hold,
Subject to their kingly will.
* * * * *
Still to such, life’s elements,
With their sterner laws dispense,
And the chain of consequence
Broken in their pathway lies.
To his aid the strong reverses,
Hidden powers and giant forces,
And the high stars in their courses,
Mingle in his strife.”
The italicized lines are almost an echo of the words of an Adept when speaking of the possibility for the disciple, of an ultimate escape from the laws of Karma, which give him the right to demand the secrets of nature. “He obtains this right by having escaped from the limits of nature, and by having freed himself from the rules which govern human life.” So does Whittier’s initiate. For every one of us there looms a danger in our being prone to mistake desire for will. The parodox of Levi is sound and true: “The will obtains all that it does not desire.” Meditation in this direction will reveal some deep and useful truths to the practical occultist.
But to return to our poets. There are many butterfly hints to be found fluttering through their lines. Time has spared us this one from Marvel:
“At some fruit-tree’s mossy root.
Casting the body’s vest aside
My soul into the bows does glide;
There, like a bird, its sits and sings.”
And Matthew Arnold, turned dreamer for the nonce, has netted us one, more meaty than diaphanous, in which we find hints of periodic Devachanic sleep, between every period of earth struggle, of man’s threefold nature which serves to hide the memory of his other lives, and a touch of Karma as well:
“The Guide of our dark steps a triple veil
Betwixt our senses and our sorrow keeps;
Hath sown with cloudless passages the tale
Of grief, and eased us with a thousand sleeps.”
It would sometimes seem, as in the above quotation, that the poet himself was scarcely conscious of the full bearing of what he wrote, as if that dim something from another life of which Lowell spoke, had brushed him with its wing unawares. Often the higher Self speaks out from a man’s work, to other men whose consciousness has a higher development than his own, while it has not as yet revealed itself to him. How many men tremble thus on the borders of the unseen. Let us beware whom we set down as remote from our communion, “for in an instant a veil may fall down from his spirit, and he will be far ahead of us all.” There is an occult verse from Goethe which has been quoted by Tyndall in one of those sad and baffled paragraphs which darkle through the works of our scientists, shadowy witnesses that these distinguished materialists and physicists are often nearer our path than they or we suspect. Through such they seem to call for deliverance. We give the verse in its setting, leaving Tyndall’s prose to point its poetic meaning.
“As regards knowledge, physical science is polar. In one sense it knows, or is destined to know everything. In another sense it knows nothing. Science understands much of this intermediate phase of things that we call nature, of which it is the product; but science knows nothing of the origin or destiny of nature. Who or what made the sun, and gave his rays their alleged power? Who or what made and bestowed upon the ultimate particles of matter their wondrous power of varied interaction? Science does not know: the mystery, though pushed back, remains unaltered. To many of us who feel that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the present philosophy of science, but who have been also taught by baffled efforts, how vain is the attempt to grapple with the Inscrutable, the ultimate frame of mind is that of Goethe:
“‘Who dares to name His name,
Or belief in him proclaim,
Veiled in mystery as He is, the All-enfolder?
Gleams across the mind His light,
Feels the lifted soul His might;
Dare it then deny His reign, the All-upholder?’”