THEOSOPHY, Vol. 32, No. 3, January, 1944
(Pages 116-122; Size: 21K)
(Number 10 of a 10-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 10 articles have the same name.]
CYCLES OF PSYCHISM(1)
WHILE the phenomena and beliefs known today under the general name of "Spiritualism" are often thought to be of recent origin, dating back less than one hundred years, a study of history will show that these abnormal manifestations have been present among all peoples and in all times. Actually, it would be difficult to find an epoch in which psychic phenomena were not better understood than they are today. Our ignorance of these matters is due to the materialism of both science and religion, the one denying the phenomena altogether, the other ignoring them, or, in the case of the Catholics, making the devil and his fiends the scapegoats for all unnatural events, excepting, of course, the "miracles" performed by loyal Christians, which are explained by divine intervention!
The ancients, however, thought otherwise. Belief in spirits and invisible worlds, and in the possibility of intercommunication between men and intelligences existing on other planes was, until quite recently in our history, common to all mankind. The religions and philosophies of the ancients are filled with allusions to "gods" and "spirits" of various kinds. The symbolic and legendary accounts of creation found in the Puranas of India describe an almost infinite diversity of such beings known by the generic name "Devas." Their total number, according to the Hindus, is 330,000,000. H. P. Blavatsky described them as "the embodied powers of states of matter, more refined than those with which we are familiar." While the term Devas may be rendered "Gods" in English, it must not be supposed that they are all degrees of being far above man. They represent the various powers and forces in nature, each class possessing a degree of intelligence, but the kind of intelligence we see manifested in the various kingdoms.
Personification has always been the method of teachers who have had to deal with the mind of the masses, and hence we find tales of the "Gods" in every land, of beings who have been anthropomorphized by the popular imagination, and then worshipped. The secret teachings of the great religions of the world explain the inner meaning of these allegories, of which we have a familiar example in the Mysteries of Greece. St. Paul, in the first epistle to the Corinthians, says, "Know ye not that we shall judge angels," making clear that he had been initiated by the Pagan philosophers of his time. For the angels of Christianity are but the devas of India, the daimons of Greece, borrowed from the past by the Christian Fathers and Catholic theologians. Jehovah himself, the personal God of the Old Testament, was but one of the subordinate powers of Nature, the tutelary spirit of that great prophet-medium, Moses, whose personal ambition led him to pass off his "familiar" as the very Spirit of God!
Belief in "spirits" -- legitimate because resting on the authority of experiment and observation -- vindicates at the same time another belief, also regarded as a superstition, namely polytheism. The latter is based on a fact in nature; spirits mistaken for Gods have been seen in every age by men: hence belief in many and various Gods. Monotheism, on the other hand, rests upon a pure abstraction. Who ever saw God? -- that God, we mean, the Infinite and the Omnipotent, the one about whom the monotheists talk so much? Polytheism -- when once man claims the right of divine interference on his behalf -- is logical and consistent with the philosophies of the East, all of which -- whether pantheistic or deistic -- proclaim the One to be an infinite abstraction, an absolute Something, which utterly transcends the conception of the finite. Surely such a creed is more philosophical than the religion whose theology, proclaiming God in one place as a mysterious and an incomprehensible Being, shows him at the same time so human and so petty a God as to concern himself with the breeches of his chosen people(2) while neglecting to say anything definite about the immortality of their souls or their survival after death!
The mere presence, however, of doctrines relating to the existence of invisible beings, or "spirits," of itself offers little in rational explanation of spiritualistic phenomena. Otherwise the blanket charge of diabolism made by the Roman Catholics such as de Mirville and des Moisseaux, and more lately by Montague Summers,(3) would suffice. Actually, there is plenty of evidence to show that the ancients had knowledge of those many classes of beings which the Spiritualists so loosely denominate "spirits of the dead," that they were in many cases masters, instead of merely the passive mediums, of the occult powers. They knew from a profound metaphysical philosophy and discipline that there are many classes of spirits, some good, some bad. Of the latter all too many mediums have learned to their sorrow ... and too late. Jakob Görres, a German author of the last century, conversing with some Hindus of the Malabar Coast, asked if there were ghosts among them. They replied that there were, but recognized them as "bad bhuts," principally the remains of suicides and murderers, or of those who died violent deaths. These spirits flutter about and appear as phantoms. Night-time is favorable to them, they seduce the feeble-minded and tempt others in a thousand different ways. (Mystique, iii, 63.)
When Madame Blavatsky told her Hindu friends of the efforts of European and American Spiritualists to communicate with the dead they exclaimed in undisguised horror: "Communion with bhuts --communion with souls that have become wicked demons, to whom we are ready to offer sacrifices in food and drink to pacify them and make them leave us quiet, but who never come but to disturb the peace of families; whose presence is a pollution! What pleasure or comfort can the Bellate (white foreigners) find in communicating with them?"
This does not mean that the sages of antiquity disbelieved in beneficent spiritual influences, but only that they distinguished clearly between the material and earthly shades known in the East as Bhuts or devils, and the purely subjective spiritual intelligences that work for the elevation and inspiration of mankind. The Eastern teaching, however, is that such communion is possible only after a long period of extreme discipline, through which the disciple attains by successive stages the powers of inner perception which belong to the adept or initiate. First of all, in this training, the slightest tendency to passivity must be destroyed. Unless this is done the aspirant may become the victim of malicious entities which inhabit the lower psychic atmosphere of the earth. Passivity, note well, is the sine qua non of successful mediumship, which in the ancient view exposes the sensitive to the baleful emanations of the lowest of the invisible spheres.
The Gods or Devas of the Orient were known to the Greeks as Daimons. Their view of the invisible world and its various inhabitants was essentially the same as that of the Hindus. In Platonic philosophy the souls of exalted men were literally "gods," in that they participated in the One. In many places Plato shows his familiarity with the ancient Aryan philosophy. In the Phaedrus he describes the highest initiation of the Mysteries, whereby one became the spectator of "entire, simple, immovable, and blessed visions, resident in a pure light." The Timaeus gives account of the "Daimons who inhabit the air, are always near to us, ... intermediate between gods and men." The Bhuts of the Hindus are identified in the Phaedo as "ghostly apparitions of souls which have not departed pure." Xenocrates, a Platonist who expounded many of the unwritten theories and teachings of his master, taught that the Daimons are intermediate beings between the divine perfection and human sinfulness, and he divides them into classes, each subdivided into many others. But he states expressly that the individual or personal Soul is the leading guardian Daimon of every man, and that no Daimon has more power over us than our own. Thus the Daimon of Socrates is the God or Divine Entity which inspired him all his life. It depends on man either to open or close his perceptions to the Divine voice.
Heracleides, who adopted fully the Pythagorean and Platonic views of the human Soul, its nature and faculties, speaking of Spirits, calls them "Daimons with airy and vaporous bodies," and affirms that Souls inhabit the Milky Way before descending "into generation" or sublunary existence.
The fact is that the word Daimon was applied by the ancients, and especially by the Philosophers of the Alexandrian school, to all kinds of spirits, whether good or bad, human or otherwise, but the appellation was often synonymous with that of Gods or angels.
Under the general designation of fairies, and fays, the spirits of the elements appear in the myths, fables, traditions, or poetry of all nations, ancient and modern. Their names are legion -- peris, devs, djins, sylvans, satyrs, fauns, elves, dwarfs, trolls, norns, nisses, kobolds, brownies, necks, stromkarls, undines, nixies, goblins, ponkes, banshees, kelpies, pixies, moss people, good people, good neighbors, wild women, men of peace, white ladies -- and many more. They have been seen, feared, blessed, banned, and invoked in every quarter of the globe and in every age.
These nature-spirits, or elementals, as they have been called, must not be confused with human ghosts or the psychic remains of those who have died. Proclus has written explicitly of the "second death," by which these remains of the psychic man are left behind:After death, the soul continueth to linger in the aerial body, till it is entirely purified from all angry and voluptuous passions ... then doth it put off by a second dying the aerial body as it did the earthly one. Whereupon, the ancients say that there is a celestial body always joined with the soul, which is immortal, luminous, and starlike....This is obviously the "spiritual body" spoken of by St. Paul, whose triune division of man -- body, soul, and spirit -- was in perfect accord with the Greek conception. The aërial body mentioned by Proclus is, like the physical, mortal; it is the psyche, "from elements it was formed -- to elements it must return." The nous, or understanding, according to the Greeks, is the eternal spirit in man. Plutarch wrote of the fate of the psyche, or lower human soul:And of these souls the moon is the element, because souls resolve into her as the bodies of the deceased do into earth. Those, indeed, who have been virtuous and honest, living a quiet and philosophical life, without embroiling themselves in troublesome affairs, are quickly resolved; being left by the nous and no longer using the corporeal passions, they incontinently vanish away.The more coherent of these psychic "corpses," made so by an intensity of the passions during life, are the Elementaries of the Kabalists, the Incubi and Succubi of the Middle Ages. Especially to be feared were the victims of suicide and sudden death, for whom the natural terminus of life had not come. Of these the Neoplatonist, Porphyry, wrote:The soul, having even after death a certain affection for its body, an affinity proportioned to the violence with which their union was broken, we see many spirits hovering in despair about their earthly remains; we even see them eagerly seeking the putrid remains of other bodies, but above all freshly-spilled blood, which seems to impart to them for the moment some of the faculties of life.These entities were known to the Romans as "larvae," or malignant spirits of the dead. Good human spirits became "gods." The Roman celebration of Lemuria included rites which were supposed to rid the home of lingering shades or shells.
The Magi and theurgic philosophers objected most severely to necromancy, or the "evocation of souls." "Bring her [the soul] not forth, lest in departing she retain something," says Psellus, a Neoplatonist of the Byzantine Renaissance. "It becomes you not to behold them before your body is initiated, since, by always alluring, they seduce the souls of the uninitiated" -- says the same philosopher in another passage.
The ancients objected to necromancy for several good reasons. "It is extremely difficult to distinguish a good Daimon from a bad one," says Iamblichus. If the spell of a good man succeeds in penetrating the density of the earth's atmosphere -- always oppressive to it, often hateful -- still there is a danger that it cannot avoid; the soul is unable to come into proximity with the material world without that on "departing, she retains something," that is to say, she contaminates her purity, for which she has to suffer more or less after her departure. The evil terrestrial "Daimons" seek to introduce themselves into the bodies of the simple-minded and idiots, and remain there until dislodged therefrom by a powerful and pure will. Jesus, Apollonius, and some of the apostles, had the power to cast out "devils," by purifying the atmosphere within and without the patient, so as to force the unwelcome tenant to flight.
Although Aristotle himself, anticipating the modern physiologists and behaviorists, regarded the human mind as a material substance, he fully believed in the existence of a "double" soul, or spirit and soul. He laughed at Strabo for believing that any particles of matter, per se, could have life and intellect in themselves sufficient to fashion by degrees such a multiform world as ours.
Of the gross terrestrial shells, Porphyry remarked:These invisible beings have been receiving from man honours as gods; ... a universal belief makes them capable of becoming very malevolent; it proves that their wrath is kindled against those who neglect to offer them a legitimate worship.He said further,Daimons are invisible; but they know how to clothe themselves with forms and configurations subjected to numerous variations, which can be explained by their nature having much of the corporeal in itself. Their abode is in the neighborhood of the earth ... and when they escape the vigilance of the good Daimons, there is no mischief they will not dare commit. One day they will employ brute force; another, cunning....Iamblichus, the great theurgist of the Neoplatonic school, and instructor of Porphyry in sacred magic, wrote in The Mysteries of the Egyptians that the bad Daimons "manifest themselves but under the shadowy forms of phantoms." They "require darkness.... The sensations they excite in us make us believe in the presence and reality of things they show, though these things be absent."
It is a child's play for them to arouse in us vile passions, to impart to societies and nations turbulent doctrines, provoking wars, seditions, and other public calamities, and then tell you "that all of these are the work of the gods." ... These spirits pass their time in cheating and deceiving mortals, creating around them illusions and prodigies; their greatest ambition is to pass as gods and souls.
A careful reading of Isis Unveiled, supplemented by independent research into the psychological teachings of the ancient Hindus and Greeks, cannot fail to show, first, the basic uniformities in the descriptions of various sorts of psychic phenomena, and, second, the essential identity of the explanations offered. If the investigator will make the entirely justifiable assumption that the ancients may have had psychological knowledge, based upon personal experience, which far transcends our own, such research will undoubtedly lead him to discoveries that confirm in principle and in many details the Theosophical teachings regarding these phenomena. It should be recognized and admitted that while western civilization may have reached new heights in the field of technology and mechanical invention, it is childish and even arrogantly provincial to assume that a knowledge of the psychic, intellectual and moral constitution of man, superior to our own limited understanding in these departments, could not have existed in the past.
Unless some such recognition is made, and a respectful hearing accorded to the representations made for the great psychologists of antiquity, it may well happen that the flood of psychic irregularities resulting from the emotional cataclysm of war, and the natural turning of public interest to things psychic, will deliver millions of gullible victims into the hands of charlatans and exploiters of the "psychic." There is a science of these things, there are principles to be known, laws to be grasped, and warnings to be issued and observed. But that science will never grow from the materialism of modern psychology, nor from dilettante undertakings in spiritualism and "magic" by sophisticated curiosity hunters.
The moral science of psychology has its foundations in a spiritual conception of man, developed in terms of strict metaphysical principles, with clear doctrines of the migrations and changes of the soul in relation to embodied existence. The proofs and tests of that science are not available to those who refuse to conform to the ethical precepts on which it is founded, or who will not look in the direction from which the evidence of its verity is forthcoming. Little can be done for such as these, nor has the theosophical student any particular obligation to them. The teachings of Theosophy, whether as anciently expressed, or in their modern exegesis, are for those who want them; who, genuinely bewildered by the claims and counter-claims of mediums, pseudo-occultists, and "yogis" from the East, puzzled by the agnosticism of science, and the apathy of religion, are determined to find out if there are such things as psychic phenomena, and hidden or occult powers in man, and what, if any, may be the meaning of them all. Theosophy is primarily a philosophy of life, but it is also practical psychology which comprehends in its purview all the strange and inexplicable experiences that come to men.
[Reminder: The CYCLES OF PSYCHISM series has now ended.]
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THREE (3) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:
(1) NOTE.--This installment concludes the series.
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(2) "And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness, from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach." (Exodus xxviii, 42.) God a linen-draper and a tailor!
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(3) Author of A Popular History of Witchcraft (Dutton, 1937), and several similar books.
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