THERE has probably never been a period within our recollection more given to the production of "great missions" and missionaries than the present. The movement began, apparently, about a hundred years ago. Before that, it would have been unsafe to make such claims as are common in the present day. But the revelators of that earlier time were few and far between compared to those who are to be found now, for they are legion. The influence of one or two was powerful; of others, whose beliefs were dangerously akin to a common form of lunacy--next to nothing. All will recognize a wide difference between Anne Lee, whose followers flourish at the present time, and Joanna Southcote, whose hallucination long ago, and in her own day, excited smiles from rational people. The venerable Shaker lady, the "Woman" of Revelation XII, taught some truths amid confused ideas as to their practical working. At least, in a rather loose age, she held up an ideal of pure living which must always appeal to the spiritual nature and aspirations of man.
Then followed a period of moral decadence in the messianic perceptions and works. The polygamy taught and practised by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young has been one of the strangest features of any modern revelation or so-called religion. Zeal and martyrdom were both illustrated in these leaders of the blind--the one without knowledge, and the other worse than useless. It was a prophecy of more lawless prophets, and more disastrous followings.
With the spread of the spiritualistic cult, the Messiah craze has vastly increased, and men and women alike have been involved in its whirlpools. Given, a strong desire to reform somehow the religious or social aspect of the world, a personal hatred of certain of its aspects, and a belief in visions and messages, and the result was sure; the "Messiah" arose with a universal panacea for the ills of mankind. If he (very often she) did not make the claim, it was made for him. Carried away by the magnetic force, the eloquence, the courage, the single idea of the apostle pro tem, numbers, for very varied reasons, accepted him or her as the revelator of the hour and of all time.
With burning indignation at the enthralment of womanhood in marriage, Victoria Woodhull arose to proclaim freedom. The concentrated forces within and around her withstood insult, calumny, and threats. What her exact utterances were, or what she meant herself, it is not easy now to discover. If she indeed preached free love, she only preached woman's damnation. If she merely tore down social veils, and rifled whited sepulchres, she did the human race a service. Man has fallen to so material a level that it is impossible to suppress sexual passion--but its exaltation is manifestly his ruin. Some saw in her teachings a way of liberty dear to their own sympathies and desires, and their weaknesses and follies have for ever dealt a death-blow to any real or imagined doctrine of free love, upheld no matter by whom. Victoria Woodhull grew silent, and the latest interpretations of the Garden of Eden and the fall of man, with which she has broken the silence, do not approach anywhere near in truth and lucidity to Laurence Oliphant's inspirational catches at the meaning of some of those ancient allegories in the book of Genesis. Blind as he was to the key of human life in the philosophy of reincarnation, with its impregnable logic, he gave some vivid side-glimpses of truth in his Scientific Religion.
Yet Victoria Woodhull should have her due. She was a power in the land, and after her appearance, which stirred up thought in the sluggish, it became more possible to speak and write on the social question, and its vast issues. So much plain-spoken and acted folly created a hearing for a little wisdom.
After this, in the spiritualistic field, many lesser lights stood forth. Some openly advocated sexual freedom, and were surrounded by influences of the most dangerous order. The peace and happiness of many a home have been wrecked by these teachings, never more to return. They wrecked the weak and unwary, who reaped hours of agony, and whom the world falsely regarded as wicked. The crusade at last against these more open dangers of spiritualism became fierce, but although publicly denounced--an Oneida Creek never could become popular!--the disguised poison creeps about in underhand channels, and is one of the first snares the mediumistic inquirer into Spiritualism has to beware of. "Affinities" were to redeem the world; meanwhile they have become a by-word. There is an unwritten history in Spiritualism which none of its clever advocates will ever record. Some of its latest Messiahs and their claims are ignored, and their names hardly mentioned, but we hear nothing of the hot-house process by which their abnormal condition was produced. Certain of these have been, verily, the victims of their belief--persons whose courage and faith in a more righteous cause would have won them lasting victory. And certain of these are mad vortices in which the inexperienced are at last engulfed. The apotheosis of passion, from the bitter fruit of which man has everlasting need to be redeemed, is the surest sign of moral degradation. Liberty to love according to the impulse of the senses, is the most profound slavery. From the beginning nature has hedged that pathway with disease and death. Wretched as are countless marriages, vile as are the man-made laws which place marriage on the lowest plane, the salvation of free-love is the whisper of the snake anew in the ear of the modern Eve.
No one denies that there are aspects of Spiritualism which have been useful in some ways. With this, however, we have nothing to do. We are pointing now to the way in which it has accentuated a common illusion.
The claims to final appropriation of the prophesied year 1881 the two witnesses, and the woman clothed with the sun, are so varied and diverse that there is safety in numbers. A true understanding of Kabbalistic allegory, and the symbolic galleries and chambers of the Great Pyramid, would at once disperse these ideas, and enlighten these illuminations. To distinguish the white rays of truth from influx from the astral sphere, requires a training which ordinary sensitives, whether avowed spiritualists or not, do not possess. Ignorance emboldens, and the weak will always worship the bold.
Some of these apostles denounce alike Spiritualism and Theosophy; some accept the latter, but weave it anew into a version of their own; and some have apparently arisen, independently of any other cult, through the force of their own or somebody else's conviction.
No one can doubt the poetical nature of the inspiration of Thomas Lake Harris. He had an intellectual head and a heart for poetry. Had he kept clear of great claims, he would have ranked at least as a man of literary ability, and a reformer with whom other reformers would wish to shake hands. His poem on Womanhood must echo in every thoughtful heart. But the assumption of personal privilege and authority over others, and "affinity" theories, have stranded him on a barren shore.
There is an avowed re-incarnation of Buddha in the United States, and an avowed re-incarnation of Christ. Both have followers; both have been interviewed and said their best. They and others like unto them have had signs, illuminations, knowledge not common to men, and events pointing in a marked way to this their final destiny. There has even been a whisper here and there of supernatural births. But they lacked the clear-seeing eye which could reduce these facts to their right order, and interpret them aright. Kings and potentates appear, and dreamers of dreams, but there is never a prophet or Daniel in their midst. And the result is sorry to behold, for each seems to be putting the crown upon his own head.
If Theosophy had done nothing else, it would have made a demand on human gratitude in placing the truth and falsehood of these psychic experiences, unfoldments, or delusions as the case might be, plainly before the people, and explaining their rationale. It showed a plane of manhood, and proved it unassailably to a number of persons, which transcends any powers or capacities of the inspirational psychic who may imagine himself or herself to be a messenger to the world at large. It placed personal purity on a level which barred out nine-tenths of these claimants from all thought of their presumed inheritance, and showed that such a condition of purity, far transcending any popular ideal of such virtue, was the absolute and all-essential basis of spiritual insight and attainment. It swept the ground from under the feet of those poor men and women who had been listening to the so-called messages from the angels, that they were the chosen of heaven, and were to accomplish world-wide missions. The Joan of Arcs, the Christs, the Buddhas, the Michaels, were fain to see truths they had not dreamed of, and gifts they had never possessed, exercised in silence and with potent force by men whose names were unknown even to history, and recognised only by hidden disciples, or their peers. Something higher was placed before the sight of these eager reformers than fame: it was truth. Something higher than the most purified union between even one man and one woman in the most spiritual of sympathies, was shown; it was the immortal union of the soul of man with God. Wherever Theosophy spreads, there it is impossible for the deluded to mislead, or the deluded to follow. It opens a new path, a forgotten philosophy which has lived through the ages, a knowledge of the psychic nature of man, which reveals alike the true status of the Catholic saint, and the spiritualistic medium the Church condemns. It gathers reformers together, throws light on their way, and teaches them how to work towards a desirable end with most effect, but forbids any to assume a crown or sceptre, and no less delivers from a futile crown of thorns. Mesmerisms and astral influences fall back, and the sky grows clear enough for higher light. It hushes the "Lo here! and lo there!" and declares the Christ, like the kingdom of heaven, to be within. It guards and applies every aspiration and capacity to serve humanity in any man, and shows him how. It overthrows the giddy pedestal, and safely cares for the human being on solid ground. Hence, in this way, and in all other ways, it is the truest deliverer and saviour of our time.
To enumerate the various "Messiahs" and their beliefs and works would fill volumes. It is needless. When claims conflict, all, on the face of it, cannot be true. Some have taught less error than others. It is almost the only distinction. And some have had fine powers imperilled and paralyzed by leadings they did not understand.
Of one thing, rationally-minded people, apart from Theosophists, may be sure. And that is, service for humanity is its all-sufficient reward; and that empty jars are the most resonant of sound. To know a very little of the philosophy of life, of man's power to redeem wrongs and to teach others, to perceive how to thread the tangled maze of existence on this globe, and to accomplish aught of lasting and spiritual benefit, is to annihilate all desire or thought of posing as a heaven-sent saviour of the people. For a very little self-knowledge is a leveller indeed, and more democratic than the most ultra-radical can desire. The best practical reformers of the outside abuses we have known, such as slavery, deprivation of the rights of woman, legal tyrannies, oppressions of the poor, have never dreamed of posing as Messiahs. Honor, worthless as it is, followed them unsought, for a tree is known by its fruits, and to this day "their works do follow them." To the soul spending itself for others those grand words of the poet may be addressed evermore:
Take comfort--thou hast left behind Powers that will work for thee: air. earth, and skies: There's not a breathing of the common wind That will forget thee thou hast great allies; Thy friends are exultations, agonies, And love, and man's unconquerable mind!With the advent of Theosophy, the Messiah-craze surely has had its day, and sees its doom. For if it teaches, or has taught, one thing more plainly than another, it is that the "first shall be last, and the last first." And in the face of genuine spiritual growth, and true illumination, the Theosophist grows in power to most truly befriend and help his fellows, while he becomes the most humble, the most silent, the most guarded of men.
Saviours to their race, in a sense, have lived and will live. Rarely has one been known. Rare has been the occasion when thus to be known has been either expedient or possible. Therefore, fools alone will rush in "where angels fear to tread."
SPECTATORLucifer, July, 1890