Portrait of Madame Blavatsky resized


No Religion Higher Than Truth

Fragments of Occult Truth, Part II
by A. O. Hume

Theosophist Magazine
Vol. 3, No. 6 March 1882
(pages 157-160)

Mr. W.H. Terry, F. T. S., of Melbourne, Australia, whose letter on “Spirits Embodied and Disembodied” called forth certain explanations published under the above heading in the October number of the Theosophist, finds our elucidation of the occult mysteries underlying the external facts of spiritualism, an unsatisfactory solution of the difficulties presented to the mind even by “the few instances of assumed spirit communication ” which he originally presented for consideration.  The letter in which he replies to our explanations is as follows: –

“In the Theosophist for October, in conjunction with my letter on “Spirits Embodied and Disembodied, ” appears an outline from your pen of Occult Philosophy intended as a reply to my strictures on the attitude of some Theosophists in relation to Spiritualism.  The theory there propounded, although it may absolve the Occultist from inconsistency in the direction indicated by me, does not, in my opinion, satisfactorily explain even the few instances of assumed spirit communication quoted in my letter, but of that anon.

“I am desirous not only of arriving at “Truth” myself, but of assisting others in the same direction, and how can we better do this than by presenting the result of our experiences in search of it?

“Theosophy (as I understand it) is a knowledge of the secrets of nature acquired by intercourse with God; it is not to be assumed, however, that the latter expression implies direct communication with the Great Spirit of the Universe, but rather rapport with the higher spheres of spirit, the Great Vortex of Spiritual Knowledge. (1) [Footnote: 1. We object to this definition. Theosophy means divine or God-Wisdom. Ed of the Theosophist, H.P.B]

“The result of my experiences up to the present time has been to show that the Human Spirit not only retains its individuality and memory of all that is worth retaining of its earthly existence, but as it ascends by a series of progressive unfoldments to higher states of existence, knowing more of God and his works, it becomes a vehicle for the transmission of ‘God Knowledge’ to its less favourably situated brethren in earth life.

“Now you say you know that the Occult theory is correct.  I might, with equal justice, say, I know what my theory is, because all my experiences so far confirm it; but it is only in this sense that I do know, further experience may modify or change my sense that I do know, further experience may modify or change my belief, for I am not so presumptuous as to imagine I have reached the ultima thule of knowledge in this direction.  So far my position stands best, for as yet you have only unfolded a theory whilst I have given facts which, even were your theory substantiated, would not be entirely covered by it.  I will not, however, analyze either the theory or the facts as most of the readers of the Theosophist who are familiar with the subject treated upon, will be able to judge for themselves, but will add some further reasons why I am constrained to believe in the continuity of individuality and the preservation of the unity of soul and spirit after the dissolution of the more material physical body.  First then during my early experiments my arm was influenced by what purported to be disembodied human spirits who wrote in handwritings different from my own and whose earthly autographs I had never seen.  Moreover, I was generally alone when these writings were done.  Yet when subsequently I was enabled to compare them with the autographs of the writer whose spirit professed to control my arm, they were found to be facsimiles of the automatic writing.  Again for the past fifteen years an intelligence who professes to have existed on this earth in human form upwards of a century since, and who exhibits a distinct individuality, has conversed with me by magnetic impression, and occasionally orally through various media, has advised me on medical and other matters pertaining to the welfare of humanity, has comforted and consoled me in distress, and encouraged me in well-doing.  He has been seen again and again by seers and seeresses who describe him as a fine intelligent and benevolent-looking man.  For the period I mention, I have ever found him wise and truthful, and he endorses the spiritual theory of the continued personality of spirit and its progression from plane to plane as it increases in wisdom and purity, can it be wondered at that I should attach importance to, and have some faith in this intelligence, a faith founded upon a substantial experience?

“You speak of the deterioration of mediums as a natural sequence of mediumship; in that I might almost say I know you err for I have had media whose whole natures have refined and beautified on the practice of their mediumship, but it is the wise use of it that leads to this result: excess of any good thing inverts its issue.  I am quite aware of the tendency to deterioration in public media, especially those who are mediums for materialization and purely physical phenomena, but there are adequate causes to account for this within the spiritual philosophy, the first of which is the psychological influence of those who come to witness the phenomena with minds full of suspicion and animated with a desire to detect what they have in many instances decided beforehand to be a fraud; secondly, the influences from the spiritual side attracted by such conditions; thirdly, the more material nature of the lower order of spirits, which facilitates their manifesting in this direction; fourthly, the deterioration of moral tone that inevitably follows the decadence of the religious sentiment (which in many cases was the primary motor to the pursuit of mediumship) when its practice becomes purely a matter of business.  Are not these causes adequate to account for the deterioration of tone and moral decadence of many media?  Surrounding a medium of this class with good moral influences and so circumstancing him as to keep the selfish propensities in abeyance, will prevent all this.  I have an instance in the person of Mr. George Sprigg who, for five years, have been a medium for materialization.  During the year I have known him, his health and intellect have undoubtedly improved rather than deteriorated and as far as a most intimate acquaintance will allow me to judge, his moral nature has not deteriorated one iota.”

The main point on which our correspondent insists, is that he has had intercourse with a spirit himself and cannot, therefore, be talked out of a conviction that spirits exist.  The teaching he has received by subjective impressions, and oral communications through other mediums, – (we say “other” because our correspondent is clearly mediumistic himself, which accounts for the tenacity of his belief,) – constitute a substantial experience, which is fortified by the testimony of some seers who have perceived, in a shape visible to them, the individuality conversing with our correspondent and describe him as a being of a dignified appearance and apparently an elevated type of mind.  “You say,” writes our correspondent, “you know the occult theory is correct; I might with equal justice say I know that my theory is.”  Here lies the all important difficulty.  Who shall decide, – says the familiar proverb – when doctors disagree – that is to say, when people both professing to know, make statements that are incompatible with each other.  (Clearly in such a case one of the conflicting statements rests on a misconception of what constitutes knowing of what real knowledge consists).  This question takes us up into an elevated region of metaphysics; but it is only by the light of metaphysics that we can possibly secure a sufficiently wide-reaching prospect of the questions to be dealt with, to feel sure we are not misled by the mere shows and seeming of its minor details.

What constitutes real knowledge?  The question lies at the very threshold of occult study.  We say so, not merely because of the prominent way in which it crops up in this discussion, but, because as a fact, having nothing to do with the questions now raised by Mr. Terry, nor with Spiritualism, nor with any controversies in the ordinary world, that query is, in actual practice, the first put before a regular student of occultism, who is taken in hand by the Professors of the Occult World.  And the student is taught, – or is led to see, – that there are two kinds of knowledge, the real and the unreal; the real concerned with eternal verities and primal causes, the unreal with illusory effects.  So far the statement seems to deal with abstractions too vague to challenge denial.  Each school of thinkers will admit so much, reserving to itself the assumption that the illusory effects are those considerations which have fascinated its rivals; the eternal verities its own conclusions.  But we no sooner come to a clear understanding as to what mental presentiments must be classed as illusory effects, than we find the first proposition of Occult Philosophy at war with the whole current practice of the world at large, as regards all classes of scientific investigation.  All physical science, and a good deal of what the Western world is pleased to call metaphysical speculation, rests on the crude and superficial belief that the only way in which ideas can get into the mind, is through the channels of the senses.  The physicist devotes all his efforts to the careful elimination from the mass of materials on which he builds up his conclusions, of everything except that which he conceives to be real fact – and it is exactly that which he conceives to be real fact, – anything clearly appealing to the senses – which the profound philosophy of Eastern Occultism deliberately condemns at starting as, in its nature, illusory effects,  transitory secondary consequences of the real underlying fact.  And in acting thus, does Occult Philosophy make an arbitrary choice between rival methods, as a chemist might select one or other of two different methods of analysis?  Not at all.  Real philosophy cannot make any choice arbitrarily: there is but one eternal verity and, in pursuit of that, thought is forced to travel along one road.  The knowledge which appeals to the senses cannot but deal with illusory effects, for all the forms of this world and its material combinations are but pictures in the great dissolving view of evolution; there is no eternity in any of them.  By mere influence from physical facts, science, proceeding on its own methods, will recognize that there was a time in its history before any of the life germs on this earth (whatever they may be) had settled into the forms in which they manifest themselves now.  Assuredly there will come a time when all these forms will disappear in the progress of cosmic change.  What preceded them, provoking their evolution from fiery nebulae, what traces will they leave behind?  From nothing they came; into nothing they will return according to the doubly irrational reply which is the only logical inference from the physical philosophy which makes them the real facts, – the only basis of real knowledge.

Of course, it must be remembered that the unreal knowledge, proceeding from the observation of illusory, because transitory and secondary effects, hangs together satisfactorily as regards the short chain it is able to construct.  This it is which leads so many, in many respects powerful, minds, to be blindly contended with it.  Some of the laws of matter can be detected (if not understood) by mere observation of matter.  But it is obvious that the something out of which matter proceeded, the something into which it will return, cannot be observed by material senses.  In which other way can observation be extended beyond the range of material senses?  Only if it can be so extended, it is any knowledge extended, is any knowledge attainable by Man which has to do with eternal verities and primal causes, which is real as distinguished from the transitory and the unreal?  Promptly, in ignorance of the methods by which observation can be extended beyond the range of the senses, the physicist declares – concerning the hypothetical eternal verities you can only dream and indulge in illusory conjecture – all mere brain-spun fancy.  Thus the world at large, not content with hugging illusions and calling them realities, spurns the reality and denounces it as illusion.

But can the eternal verity be reached?  Even if hard facts be acknowledged as illusion so far as they are transitory, is not that which is exempt from change removed from observation?  Must we not follow up the theoretical admission of the possibility of real knowledge, by the practical admission that no human being can ever have anything to do with it?  Now the consistent materialist who honestly believes that a man is simply a structure of gas, phosphates, &c., functioning within itself entirely, would have to be answered by reference to facts which it is unnecessary to rehearse in dealing with controversialists who recognise at all events that the living body includes a spiritual principle, and that the spiritual principal is capable of a life apart from the body when the body itself is dead.  There can be no difficulty for a spiritualist in the way of the conception that if the spirit of a man lives, observes, thinks, and communicates its impressions, after the body is burned or buried, so under peculiar conditions, that same spirit, may separate itself from the body temporarily during life and may thus get into such relation with the world of spirit, as to take direct cognisance of its phenomena.  Now it is quite clear that relatively to our own, at all events, such a world is a world of eternal verities.  We know that this world is fleeting and transitory.  It is readily conceivable, and all analogies suggest the conclusion, which every sort of spiritual statement confirms, that the world of spirit is more durable.  So, as that knowledge is real which lasts, and that is unreal which passes away, the spirit of man which comes into direct and conscious relations with the world of spirit acquires the real knowledge, (2) [Footnote: 2.  As in any case, say -of an initiated adept, -who brings back upon earth with him the clear and distinct recollection -correct to a detail -of facts gathered, and the information obtained in the invisible sphere of Realities. -ED.  of The Theosophist, HPB] the spirit of man which lives imprisoned in the body and is merely led through the senses with crumbs of knowledge, possesses the unreal only.

But when the imprisoned spirit does not itself rise into direct relations with the world of spirit, but is visited by an emanation from the world of spirit, – or by a spirit, (to work with the spiritualistic hypothesis for a moment,) is it entitled to assume that it is coming into possession of real knowledge?  Certainly not; for though discussing spiritual things, it is acquiring its knowledge in no way which essentially differs from the method by which mere knowledge of the purely physical sort, knowledge of illusory effects are acquired.  The spiritualist, even when himself a medium sitting in receipt of communications, is taking in knowledge just as unreal, just as untrustworthy, and liable to be distorted by an erroneous observation as that which is dealt with by the wholly unspiritual observer of matter.  This is the point we have been leading up to and is our reply to Mr. Terry’s contention that when we say we know the occult theory is correct, he might with equal say he knows his theory is.  It was a very natural thing for him to say, but, in reality, he is entirely unjustified in saying it.  He is not in a position to trust to his own observation.  With the leader please refrain even for an instant from imagining that the form of our argument rests in any sort of way on an arrogant personal claim set up in opposition to that of our correspondent?  It is enough for us to know at second hand, that the theory set forth in our preceding article, is correct.  There are those who know, of real personal knowledge, and they are living men who can communicate their knowledge to other living men, who, in receiving it, however commonplace themselves, are not subject to fall into the mistakes which ordinary men may clearly be liable to make when they attempt to take their teaching from the “spirit world” direct.

Who possess the real knowledge as contradistinguished from the unreal? – the student of Occultism is asked, and he is taught to reply – that which we have shown to be the only possible reply – “the adepts alone possess the real knowledge, their minds alone being en rapport with the universal mind.”  Now it is the teaching of the adepts (3) [Footnote: 3. Those real, genuine adepts who neither thrust themselves upon the public notice, nor do they invite us at the top of their voices: – “Come all ye, poor ignorant fools, come to me … come to learn from me who has nothing more to learn since he has made himself omniscient – how to reach “Christ-State” and Buddha-State …” – Our adepts compare themselves neither with Christ nor Buddha; nor even with Ammonius Sakka – the THEODIDAKTOS or the “God-Taught” Seer; but they may be all that combined, and much more, since they are a Body of men – not one isolated, self-taught individual. – ED. of The Theosophist, HPB.]  that Spiritualists, – in ninety-nine cases of a hundred – are mistaken when they think themselves in contact with the spirits of departed friends, or with such benevolent beings of another sphere as him with whom our present correspondent believes himself to converse; and to us, who know something of who, and what the adepts are, that is conclusive as to the fact.  But the fact being so, every conception of Spiritualism which conflicts with it must be explainable – every incident of Spiritualism must be susceptible to transfer to some group of phenomena which can be shown to be something different from what Spiritualists imagine it.  While the phenomena of Spiritualism are thrown off in all directions so freely, it is nearly impossible to follow them up in every case and, as regards the general subject, it is best to try and explain, as we sought to do in the last of these articles, why the phenomena of Spiritualism cannot be what Spiritualists think them, rather than why each in turn is actually something else.  But it is only due to our correspondent whose letters have furnished the text of this occult sermon, that the special incidents he quotes should be discussed in detail.  First then as regards the automatic writing of which Mr. Terry speaks: – We need not go further than the personal experience of the Editor of this magazine to show Mr. Terry that the production through a medium’s arm of handwriting, the facsimile of that produced in life by an alleged spirit, is no proof of the alleged spirit’s identity at all, – nor even of its individuality.  A certain Russian lady [H.P. Blavatsky] who was afflicted or gifted (whichever way the reader likes, to put it) with mediumship in her youth was “controlled” for about six years by a “spirit” who came evening after evening and wrote reams through the child’s arm in the usual automatic way.  The spirit professed to be that of an old lady who had lived in a part of Russia far away from that in which she was then manifesting herself.  She gave many details of her life and family and told how her son had committed suicide.  Sometimes the son came himself (in spirit) and controlled the little medium’s arm and gave long accounts of his remorse and sufferings consequent on the crime of self-murder.  The old lady was eloquent on the subject of Heaven and its inhabitants including the Virgin Mary.  Needless to say that she was garrulous concerning the circumstances of her own death, and the interesting ceremony of the last sacrament.  But she also wrote of worldly matters.  She gave a detailed account of a petition she had presented to the Emperor Nicholas and the text of it, verbatim.  She wrote partly in Russian, partly in German, which the child-medium at the time knew very slightly.  Eventually one of the young lady’s relatives went to the place where the spirit had lived.  Yes: she was well remembered; she had been troubled by a dissolute son who committed suicide; she had gone away to Norway where it was believed she had died, &c., &c.  All the automatic communications were verified, in short, and the petition was turned up in the archives of the Home Office at St. Petersburg.  The handwriting was perfectly reproduced.  Now what better identification could a spirit have?  Would not Mr. Terry on such an experience say – “I know that the spirits of dead persons can communicate and prove their continued individuality”?  A year after the identification of the deceased person at the place where she had lived and of the petition, &c., there came to T * * * where the young medium and her people were living, an officer who proved out to be the nephew of the “spirit.”  He chanced to show the child a miniature.  She recognised it as that of the spirit.  Explanations ensued and it turned out that Madam ———– the officer’s aunt, was not dead at all; nor was her son.  In all other respects the mediumistic communications were perfectly well substantiated.  The son had attempted to commit suicide, but the bullet with which he had shot himself had been extracted, and his life had been saved.

Now, without going further, this story as a mere statement of facts, is enough to answer Mr. Terry’s story about the automatic writing through him.  It shows that without the instrumentality of any deceased person’s “spirit” at all, automatic writing attributed by spiritualists to the agency of such spirits may take place; therefore, that no weight can be attached to the experiences on which Mr. Terry partly relies, when he says or implies that he knows his theory is correct.  But we may go somewhat further and endeavour to account for the Russian story at any rate by the occult “hypothesis,” as some of our readers will no doubt regard it.  Who, or what was the intelligence writing through the hand of the Russian child-medium.  The Devil? – as the priests of the Greek Church contended; some lying spirit? – as the spiritualists might suggest; the elementaries? – as some readers of occult literature might conceive.  No; it was the fifth principle of the medium herself, her animal, or physical soul, the portion of the Universal PROTEUS, and it acted as the soul of the clairvoyant acts during the sleep of the body.  The officer, who ultimately visited T…….., and showed the miniature, had been acquainted with the family several years previously.  The medium had seen the picture when quite a young child, but had forgotten it utterly.  She had also played with various things that had belonged to Madam ————– and had been her nephew’s possession.

Preserving faithfully the memory of all it saw and heard in the “Astral Light,” or in the “Soul of Things” (many readers will, no doubt, comprehend the allusion here to the book of that name) while playing with the miniature and other trifles, the young medium’s inner-self, years afterwards, owing to some associations of memory, began one day unconsciously reproducing these pictures.  Little by little the inner-self or fifth principle, was drawn into the current of those personal or individual associations, and Madam —————‘s emanations, and once the mediumistic impulse given – bon voyage – nothing would arrest its progress.  The facts accurately observed by the “Flying Soul” were inextricably mixed up with pure fancy derived from the teaching to which the medium had been subjected, and hence the account of Heaven and the Virgin Mary.

Mutatis mutandis a similar explanation would, in all probability, meet the case not merely of the automatic writing, of which Mr. Terry speaks, but also of the guiding or protecting spirit, who mentally impresses him, and has been seen by seers and seeresses.  That the teaching of this intelligence confirms the spiritualistic doctrine of progression from place to place and so forth, is strongly an indication of its real emanation from Mr. Terry’s own mind and the fact that the supposed spirit has been seen by clairvoyant mediums cannot be taken as proof of its objective existence.  The pictures in the astral light present all the appearance of reality to those who can discern them, and Madam ————-‘s appearance was as real to our medium in T……… as that of any spirit ever materialized in the wonderful seance-room of the Eddy Brothers in America, though the good lady herself all the while was quietly attending to her knitting with the breadth of Europe between her and the family circle which she had unconsciously entered as a spectral guest.

The difficulty of distinguishing between the creations of the seer’s brain and spectral or spiritual phenomena really external to himself (4) [Footnote: 4.  The few exceptional cases of genuine spirit-communications will be treated of, in one of the future parts of “Fragments” – as the greatest attention and caution must be bestowed upon the subject to avoid every possible misunderstanding. Before we rebuild a house, we have to pull down the old structure. We know that we shall displease many and receive no thanks for it. But it cannot be helped. The Spiritualists having insisted upon having our opinion, we must be left to proceed systematically. – ED The Theosophist, HPB] appears to be the cause of the confusion into which untrained, uninitiated observers fall when natural mediumistic gifts enable them to cross the threshold of the world of spirit and awake to a perception of the wonders hanging like an aura around the physical planet.  From Socrates to Swedenborg, from Swedenborg to the latest clairvoyant, no uninitiated seer ever saw quite correctly.  But whatever confusing influences have been brought to bear on natural seers of past times, none have been beset with the artificial bewilderments that operate to cloud the faculties of the modern spiritualistic medium.  A great mass of prepossessions occupy his mind at starting; every observation he makes, is twisted into the mold of an elaborate predetermined theory, and every picture presented to his finer senses is distorted to suit the expectations of his fancy and coloured to the complexion of a previously formulated creed.  The spiritualist may honestly believe himself a seeker after truth, but the spiritualist, who is himself in any degree a medium, is fascinated by the creations of his faith and borne away on an induced current into a phantasmagorical world peopled with his own imaginings.  Their apparent reality confirms the conjectures from which they spring, and all suggestions which claim a reconsideration of their character seem almost a blasphemy to their eager devotee.  But to the student of occult philosophy there is a grander beauty in the consistent teaching of adeptship, than in the startling excitement of mediumistic revelation, while over it all there shines, for him, the solemn light of absolute truthfulness.  Mediumship may afford sudden glimpses of unsuspected wonder, – as bits of a strange landscape may be momentarily revealed by lightning, but the science of adeptship casts the steady light of day upon the whole scene.  Surely the spiritualists, who have at least shot leagues ahead, in intelligence, of the mere materialistic moles of their purblind generation,  – insofar as they recognize that there is a landscape to be seen if it can only be lighted up, – will not deliberately prefer to guess at its features by the help of occasional flashes from the fitful planes of mediumship, but will accept the aid of that nobler illumination which the elevated genius and untiring exertion of Occult Sages of the East have provided for those whose spiritual intentions enable them to appreciate its sublimity, and confide their aspirations to its guidance.

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