FORCE OF PREJUDICE
The difference is as great between
The optics seeing, as the objects seen.
All manners take a tincture from our own,
Or some discolour'd through our passion shown;
Or fancy's beam enlarges, multiplies,
Contracts, inverts, and gives ten thousand dyes.
IT is, indeed, shorter and easier to proceed from
ignorance to knowledge than from error," says Jerdan.
But who in our age of religions gnashing their teeth at one another,
of sects innumerable, of "isms" and "ists" performing
a wild fandango on the top of each other's heads to the rhythmical
accompaniment of tongues, instead of castanets, clappering invectives--who
will confess to his error? Nevertheless, all cannot be true. Nor can it
be made clear by any method of reasoning, why men should on the one hand
hold so tenaciously to opinions which most of them have adopted,
not begotten, while they feel so savagely inimical to other sets
of opinions, generated by somebody else!
Of this truth the past history of Theosophy and the Theosophical Society
is a striking illustration. It is not that men do not desire novelty, or
that progress and growth of thought are not welcomed. Our age is as greedy
to set up new idols as it is to overthrow the old gods; as ready to give
lavish hospitality to new ideas, as to kick out most unceremoniously theories
that now seem to them effete. These new ideas may be as stupid as green
cucumbers in a hot milk soup, as unwelcome to the majority as a fly in communion
wine. Suffice it, however, that they emanate from a scientific brain, a
recognized "authority," for them to be welcomed with open arms
by the fanatics of science. In this our century, as all know, every one
in society, whether intellectual or scientific, dull or ignorant, is ceaselessly
running after some new thing. More so even, in truth, than the Athenian
of Paul's day. Unfortunately, the new crazes men run after, now as then,
are not truths--much as modern Society prides itself on living in an age
of facts--but simply corroborations of men's hobbies, whether religious
or scientific. Facts, indeed, are eagerly sought after, by all--from the
solemn conclaves of Science who seem to hang the destinies of the human
race on the correct definition of the anatomy of a mosquito's proboscis,
down to half-starved penny-a-liner on the war-path after sensational news.
But, it is only such facts as serve to pander to one or another of the prejudices
and preconceptions, which are the ruling forces in the modern mind that
are sure of their welcome.
Anything outside of such facts: any new or old idea unpopular and distasteful,
for some mysterious reason or other, to the prevailing ismical authorities,
will very soon be made to feel its unpopularity. Regarded askance, at first,
with uplifted eyebrows and in wonderment, it will begin by being solemnly
and almost à priori tabooed and thence refused per secula
seculorum even a dispassionate hearing. People will begin to comment
upon it--each faction in the light of its own prejudice and special craze.
Then, each will proceed to distort it--the mutually inimical factions even
clubbing their inventions, so as to slay the intruder with the more certainty,
until each and all will be running amuck at it.
Thus act all the religious isms, even so all the independent Societies,
whether scientific, free-thinking, Agnostic or Secularistic. Not one of
these has the faintest correct conception about Theosophy or the Society
of this name; none of them has ever gone to the trouble of even enquiring
about either--yet, one and all will sit in Solomon's seat and judge the
hateful (perhaps, because dangerous?) intruder, in the light of their respective
misconceptions. We are not likely to stop to argue Theosophy with religious
fanatics. Such remarks are beneath contempt, as those in "Word and
Work" which, speaking of "the prevalence of Spiritualism and its
advance under the new form of Theosophy"(?), strikes
both with a sledge-hammer tempered in holy water, by first accusing both
Spiritualism and Theosophy of "imposture," and then of having
the devil.1--But when in addition to
sectarian fanatics, missionaries and foggy retrogrades, in general, we find
such clearheaded, cool, intellectual giants as Mr. Bradlaugh falling into
the common errors and prejudice--the thing becomes more serious.
It is so serious, indeed, that we do not hesitate to enter respectful
yet firm protest in the pages of our journal--the only organ that
is likely to publish all that we have to say. The task is an easy one. Mr.
Bradlaugh has just published his views upon Theosophy in half a column of
his National Reformer (June30th) in which article--"Some
Words of Explanation"--we find some half-a-dozen of the most regrettable
misconceptions about the supposed beliefs of Theosophists. We publish it
in extenso as it speaks for itself and shows the reason of his displeasure.
Passages that we mean to controvert are underlined.
SOME WORDS OF EXPLANATION
The review of Madame Blavatsky's book in the last National Reformer
and an announcement in the Sun have brought me several letters on
the subject of Theosophy. I am asked for explanation as to what Theosophy
is, and as to my opinions on Theosophy. The word "theosoph" is
old, and was used among the Neoplatonists. From the dictionary, its new
meaning appears to be, "one who claims to have a knowledge of God,
or of the laws of nature by means of internal illumination." An Atheist
certainly cannot be a Theosophist. A Deist might be a Theosophist. A
Monist could not be a Theosophist. Theosophy must at least involve Dualism.
Modern Theosophy, according to Madame Blavatsky, as set out in last week's
issue, asserts much that I do not believe, and alleges some things which
to me are certainly not true. I have not had the opportunity of reading
Madame Blavatsky's two volumes, but I have read during the past ten years
many publications from the pen of herself, Colonel Olcott, and other Theosophists.
They appear to me to have sought to rehabilitate a kind of Spiritualism
in Eastern phraseology. I think many of their allegations utterly erroneous,
and their reasonings wholly unsound. I very deeply indeed regret that my
colleague and co-worker has, with somewhat of suddenness, and without any
interchange of ideas with myself, adopted as facts, matters which seem
to me as unreal as it is possible for any fiction to be. My regret
is greater as I know Mrs. Besant's devotion to any course she believes
to be true. I know that she will always be earnest in the advocacy of any
views she undertakes to defend, and I look to possible developments of
her Theosophic opinions with the very gravest misgiving. The editorial
policy of this paper is unchanged, and is directly antagonistic to all
forms of Theosophy. I would have preferred on this subject to have held
my peace, for the publicly disagreeing with Mrs. Besant on her adoption
of Socialism has caused pain to both; but on reading her article and taking
the public announcement made of her having joined the Theosophical organisation,
I owe it to those who look to me for guidance to say this with clearness.
It is of course useless to go out of our way to try and convert Mr. Bradlaugh
from his views as a thorough Materialist and Atheist to our Pantheism (for
real Theosophy is that), nor have we ever sought by word or deed
to convert Mrs. Besant. She has joined us entirely of her own free will
and accord, though the fact gave all earnest Theosophists unbounded
satisfaction, and to us personally more pleasure than we have felt for a
long time. But we will simply appeal to Mr. Bradlaugh's well-known sense
of justice and fairness, and prove to him that he is mistaken--at any rate,
as to the views of Colonel Olcott and the present writer, and also in the
interpretation he gives to the term "Theosophy."
It will be sufficient to say that if Mr. Bradlaugh knew anything of the
Rules of our Society he would know that if even he, the Head of Secularism,
were to become today a member of the Theosophical Society, such an action
would not necessitate his giving up one iota of his Secularistic ideas.
We have greater atheists in the T.S. than he ever was or can be, namely,
Hindus belonging to certain all-denying sects. Mr. Bradlaugh believes in
mesmerism, at all events he has great curative powers himself, and therefore
could not well deny the presence in some persons of such mysterious faculties;
whereas, if you attempted to speak of mesmerism or even of hypnotism to
the said Hindus, they would only shrug their shoulders at you, and laugh.
Membership in the Theosophical Society does not expose the "Fellows"
to any interference with their religious, irreligious, political, philosophical
or scientific views. The Society is not a sectarian nor is it a religious
body, but simply a nucleus of men devoted to the search after truth, whencesoever
it may come. Mrs. Annie Besant was right when stating, in the same issue
of the National Reformer, that the three objects of the Theosophical
to found a Universal Brotherhood without distinction of race or creed;
to forward the study of Aryan literature and philosophy; to investigate
unexplained laws of nature and the psychical powers latent in man. On matters
of religious opinion, the members are absolutely free. The founders of
the society deny a personal God, and a somewhat subtle form of Pantheism
is taught as the Theosophic view of the Universe, though even this is not
forced on members of the Society.
To this Mrs. Besant adds, over her own signature, that though she cannot,
in the National Reformer, state fully her reasons for joining
the T. S., yet she has
no desire to hide the fact that this form of Pantheism appears to promise
solution of some problems, especially problems in psychology, which Atheism
We seriously hope that she will not be disappointed.
The second object of the T. S., i.e. the Eastern philosophy interpreted
esoterically, has never yet failed to solve many a problem for those who
study the subject seriously. It is only those others who, without being
natural mystics, rush heedlessly into the mysteries of the unexplained psychic
powers latent in every man (in Mr. Bradlaugh himself, as well as
in any other) from ambition, curiosity or simple vanity--that generally
come to grief and make the T. S. responsible for their own failure.
Now what is there that could prevent even Mr. Bradlaugh from joining
the T. S.? We will take up the argument point by point.
Is it because Mr. Bradlaugh is an Individualist, an English Radical of
the old school, that he cannot sympathize with such a lofty idea as the
Universal Brotherhood of Man? His well-known kindness of heart, his proven
philanthropy, his life-long efforts in the cause of the suffering and the
oppressed, would seem to prove the contrary in his practice, whatever his
theoretical views on the subject may be. But, if perchance he clings to
his theories in the face of his practice, then let us leave aside this,
the first object of the T.S. Some members of our Society, unfortunately,
sympathize as little as he might with this noble, but perchance (to Mr.
Bradlaugh) somewhat Utopian ideal. No member is obliged to feel in full
sympathy with all three objects; suffice that he should be in sympathy with
one of the three, and be willing not to oppose the two others, to render
him eligible to membership in the T. S.
Is it because he is an Atheist? To begin with, we dispute "the new
meaning" he quotes from the dictionary that "a Theosophist is
one who claims to have a knowledge of God." No one can claim
a knowledge of "God." the absolute and unknowable universal Principle;
and in a personal god Eastern Theosophists (therefore Olcott and Blavatsky)
do not believe. But if Mr. Bradlaugh contends that in that case the
name is a misnomer, we shall reply: theosophia properly means not
a knowledge of "God" but of gods, i.e., divine,
that is superhuman knowledge. Surely Mr. Bradlaugh will not assert that
human knowledge exhausts the universe and that no wisdom is possible outside
the consciousness of man?
And why cannot a Monist be a Theosophist? And why must Theosophy
at least involve dualism? Theosophy teaches a far stricter and more
far-reaching Monism than does Secularism. The Monism of the latter
may be described as materialistic and summed up in the words, "Blind
Force and Blind Matter ultimating in Thought." But this--begging Mr.
Bradlaugh's pardon--is bastard Monism. The Monism of Theosophy is
truly philosophical. We conceive of the universe as one in essence and origin.
And though we speak of Spirit and Matter as its two poles, yet we state
emphatically that they can only be considered as distinct from the standpoint
of human, mayavic (i.e., illusionary) consciousness.
We therefore conceive of spirit and matter as one in essence and
not as separate and distinct antitheses.
What then are the "matters" that seem to Mr. Bradlaugh "as
unreal as it is possible for any fiction to be"? We hope he
is not referring to those physical phenomena, which most unfortunately have
been confused in the Western mind with philosophical Theosophy? Real as
these manifestations are--inasmuch as they were not produced by "conjuring
tricks" of any kind--still the best of them are, ever were and ever
will be, no better than psychological illusions, as the writer herself
always called them to the disgust of many of her phenomenally inclined friends.
These "unrealities" were all very well as toys, during
the infancy of Theosophy; but we can assure Mr. Bradlaugh that all his Secularists
might join the T. S. without ever being expected to believe in them--even
though he himself produces the same "unreal" but beneficent
"illusions" in his mesmeric cures, of many of which we heard long
ago. And surely the editor of the National Reformer will not
call "unreal" the ethical and ennobling aspects of Theosophy,
the undeniable effects of which are so apparent among the bulk of Theosophists--notwithstanding
a back-biting and quarrelling minority? Surely again he will not deny the
elevating and strengthening influence of such beliefs as those in Reincarnation
and Karma, doctrines which solve undeniably many a social problem that seeks
elsewhere in vain for a solution?
The Secularists are fond of speaking of Science as "the Saviour
of Man," and should, therefore, be ready to welcome new facts and listen
to new theories. But are they prepared to listen to theories and accept
facts that come to them from races which, in their insular pride, they term
effete? For not only do the latter lack the sanction of orthodox Western
Science, but they are stated in an unfamiliar form and are supported by
reasoning not cast in the mould of the inductive system, which has usurped
a spurious place in the eyes of Western thinkers.
The Secularists, if they wish to remain consistent materialists, will
have perforce to shut out more than half the universe from the range of
their explanations: that part namely, which includes mental phenomena, especially
those of a comparatively rare and exceptional nature. Or do they imagine,
perhaps, that in psychology--the youngest of the Sciences--everything is
already known? Witness the Psychic Research Society with its Cambridge luminaries--sorry
descendants of Henry More!--how vain and frantic its efforts, efforts that
have so far resulted only in making confusion worse confounded. And why?
Because they have foolishly endeavoured to test and to explain psychic phenomena
on a physical basis. No Western psychologist has, so far, been able to give
any adequate explanation even of the simplest phenomenon of consciousness--sense
The phenomena of thought-transference, hypnotism, suggestion, and many
other mental and psychic manifestations, formerly regarded as supernatural
or the work of the devil, are now recognized as purely natural phenomena.
And yet it is in truth the same powers, only intensified tenfold, that are
those "unrealities" Mr. Bradlaugh speaks about. Manipulated by
those who have inherited the tradition of thousands of years of study and
observation of such forces, their laws and modes of operations--what wonder
that they should result in effects, unknown to science, but super-natural
only in the eyes of ignorance.
Eastern Mystics and Theosophists do not believe in miracles,
any more than do the Secularists; what then is there superstitious
in such studies?
Why should discoveries so arrived at, and laws formulated in accordance
with strict and cautious investigation be regarded as "rehabilitated
It is a historically recognized fact that Europe owes the revival of
its civilization and culture, after the destruction of the Roman Empire,
to Eastern influence. The Arabs in Spain and the Greeks of Constantinople
brought with them only that which they had acquired from nations lying still
further Eastward. Even the glories of the classical age owed their beginnings
to the germs received by the Greeks from Egypt and Phnicia. The far
remote, so-called antediluvian, ancestors of Egypt and those of the Brahmin
Aryans sprang once upon a time from the same stock. However much scientific
opinions may vary as to the genealogical and ethnological sequence of events,
yet the fact remains undeniable that every germ of civilization which the
West has cultivated and developed has been received from the East. Why then
should the English Secularists and Freethinkers in general, who certainly
do not pride themselves on their imaginary descent from the lost ten tribes,
why should they be so reluctant to accept the possibility of further enlightenment
coming to them from that East, which was the cradle of their race? And why
should they, who above all, ought to be free from prejudice, fanaticism,
and narrow-mindedness, the exclusive prerogatives of religious bodies,
why, we ask, should they who lay claim to free thought, and have suffered
so much themselves from fanatical persecution, why, in the name of wonder,
should they so readily allow themselves to be blinded by the very prejudices
which they condemn?
This and many other similar instances bring out with the utmost clearness
the right of the Theosophical Society to fair and impartial hearing; as
also the fact that of all the now existing "isms" and "ists,"
our organization is the only body entirely and absolutely free from all
intolerance, dogmatism, and prejudice.
The Theosophical Society, indeed, as a body, is the only one which
opens its arms to all, imposing on none its own special beliefs,
strictly limited to the small inner group within it, called Esoteric
Section. It is truly Universal in spirit and constitution. It recognises
and fosters no exclusiveness, no preconceptions. In the T. S. alone do men
meet in the common search for truth, on a platform from which all dogmatism,
all sectarianism, all mutual party hatred and condemnation are excluded;
for, accepting every grain of truth wherever it is found, it waits in patience
till the chaff that accompanies it falls off by itself. It recognizes and
knows of, and therefore avoids its representatives in its ranks--but one
enemy--an enemy common to all, namely, Roman Catholicism, and that only
because of its auricular confession. But even this exception exists only
so far as regards its inner group, for reasons too apparent to need
Theosophy is monistic through and through. It seeks the one Truth in
all religions, in all science, in all experience, as in every system of
thought. What aim can be nobler, more universal, more . all-embracing?
But evidently the world has not yet learned to regard Theosophy in this
light, and the necessity of disabusing at least some of the best minds in
the English-speaking countries, of the prejudices springing from the tares
sown in them by our unscrupulous enemies is felt more than ever at this
juncture. It is with the hope of weeding these minds from all such misconceptions,
and of making the position of Theosophy plainer and clearer, that the present
writer has prepared a small volume, called "The Key to Theosophy,"
now in the press, and to be published very shortly. Therein are gathered
in the shape of dialogùe all the principal errors about, and objections
to, Theosophy and its teachings, and more detailed and fuller arguments
in proof of the assertions made in this article will be found in that work.
The writer will make it her duty to send an early copy--not to the editor
of the National Reformer--but to Mr. Bradlaugh personally.
Knowing him by reputation for long years, it is impossible for us to believe
that our critic would ever condescend to follow the example of most of the
editors, lay or clerical, and condemn a work on faith even before
he had cut open its pages, merely because of the unpopularity of its author
and the subject treated.
In that volume it will be found that the chief concern of Theosophists
is Search after Truth, and the investigation of such problems in
Nature and Man which are mysteries today, but may become secrets, open to
science, tomorrow. Is this a course which Mr. Bradlaugh would oppose? Does
his judgment belong to the category of those that can never be open
to revision? "This shall be your creed and belief, and therefore, all
investigation is useless," is a dictum of the Roman Catholic
Church. It cannot be that of the Secularists--if they would remain true
to their colours.
Lucifer, July, 1889
1 "Many, however,"
it adds, "who have had fuller knowledge of spiritualistic pretensions
than we have, are convinced that, in some cases, there are real communications
from the spirit world. If such there be, we have no doubt whence they come.
They are certainly from beneath, not from above." O Sancta Simplicitas,
which still believes in the devil--by perceiving its own face in
the mirror, no doubt?
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