THEOSOPHY, Vol. 28, No. 10, August, 1940
(Pages 453-460; Size: 26K)
(Number 8 of an 8-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 8 articles have the same name.]
THE ASTRAL BODY
HISTORICAL STUDIES: VIIIWith the single exception of the writings of Plato, no one in modern times had given to the Western world any approximation to a complete philosophy, previous to the appearance of H. P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine. The writings of Plato are carefully veiled in the symbolical language of initiation. The Secret Doctrine, coming more than two millenniums later, and in an age of so-called Science, is addressed to the Scientific thought of the age, and hence considers the whole subject largely from the stand-point of Science. The present age is as deficient in philosophy as was the age of Plato in knowledge of Science. It follows, therefore, that while the Secret Doctrine itself apprehends equally both philosophy and science, in addressing itself to the thought of an age it must recognize here, as it does everywhere, the law of cycles that rules in the intellectual development of a race no less than in the revolutions of suns and worlds, and so address the times from that plane of thought that is in the ascendant.... We are now in a transition period, and in the approaching twentieth century there will be a revival of genuine philosophy, and the Secret Doctrine will be the basis for the "New Philosophy." [Note: A link to the article that this excerpt was taken from, which is listed below, has been placed at the end of this article. --Compiler.]THE articles of this series have traced the history of the idea of the astral body -- somewhat sketchily, it is true, yet maintaining a thread of continuity -- from the days of Pythagoras and Plato up to the present time. Starting with the lucid conceptions of the Greek philosophers, we have seen the principle of form undergo transformation after transformation, being remodeled in each epoch according to prevailing religious and philosophical conceptions. During the first cycle of European thought, from the foundation of the Pythagorean School to the fateful day when the last of the Neoplatonists were driven into Syria and the doors of the Academy closed, the Western World had teachers who knew and taught the occult doctrine. This was the glorious millennium of antiquity "wherein converge for the last time the bright rays of light streaming from the æons of time gone by, unobscured by the hand of bigotry and fanaticism."(1)
--WILLIAM Q. JUDGE, "The Synthesis of Occult Science."
Followed a thousand years of darkness, during which the patrimony of civilization, the inheritance of philosophy and science treasured and recorded with such care by the ancients, was rejected and condemned. Of the wisdom of the past, only such ideas as could be made to pass through the theological mangle of Christianity were permitted to survive and play a shadowy and ineffective part in the shaping of the European mind. The Platonic Ideas, confused and blended with the Aristotelian entelechies, became mere mechanisms of the personal, Jehovistic intellect. The irrational or astral soul of Greek philosophy was replaced by the doctrine of original sin, and the philosophical conception of the origin of evil was lost in a Satanic personification of the bright God, Lucifer. The spiritual Nous unhappily became "blood of Christ," which was literally transfused from the veins of mankind, sapping their inherent divinity to give factitious life to a mythological "savior" whose promises of vicarious atonement did ultimate damage to the human moral sense. So materialized was this religion called "Christian" that the immortality of the soul -- the doctrine proudly paraded by Christian apologists, as though it were unique to their religion -- was made contingent upon the resurrection of the body!(2)
Such were the preparations for the rise of European civilization; this our inheritance of ancient wisdom safeguarded by the Church -- the institution praised by modern historians as the great "Conservator" of ancient culture and philosophy!
Throughout the Dark Ages, representatives of the Theosophical Movement did what little they could to keep the truth alive. Braving torture-chamber and faggot, and not always escaping them, men of secret and indomitable resolve went up and down Europe, healing, teaching. Templars, Rosicrucians, Alchemists, Kabalists, and minor agents of the Movement in other guises nursed the sparks that were one day to burst into the great conflagration we call the Renaissance and Reformation. In the transition period marked by this titanic struggle between the old and the new, a soil was found where the Platonic philosophy might again take root. In Italy, Germany, and later in England, Plato, Plotinus, Iamblichus and Proclus were studied once again, the humanizing influence of the Greeks spreading from these centers across the whole of Europe, giving rational and moral direction to the buoyant spirits of the new age. Teachers came among men -- philosophers, scientists and moralists -- who saw their opportunity to sow the seeds of progress in the open furrows of a changing world. Paracelsus, scientist unrivaled in all western history, brought the practical doctrines of the ancient healing art, and with them a restatement of the occult teaching of the principle of form -- the astral body. Bruno, the philosopher, laid the foundation of almost all of subsequent speculation, breaking into fragments the shell of medieval cosmology with swift and powerful strokes of Pythagorean teaching. Boehme enlarged the Christian conception of religion, making it into a mystical way of life that gave inspiration to countless pious souls of his own and later centuries.
Belonging to the same general period were other trios whose work was of a more exoteric origin. Luther, Erasmus and Calvin wrought anew the forms of orthodox religious thinking. In science, Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo applied the Pythagorean mathematics to physical motions, thus raising high the arch of scientific astronomy -- and within a century Isaac Newton had fitted its keystone into place.
Then came the rationalists, doughty champions of the Goddess of Reason. They attacked the authority of theology with every weapon in the intellectual arsenal. They revived the exoteric atomism of the Greek Democritus and Epicurus. Its simple teaching charmed them. There is naught but atoms and the void -- all else is vain illusion. No Jehovah! The profound speculations of Spinoza and Leibniz could temper but they could not withstand the victorious onslaughts of enthusiastic materialism. The atheists of the eighteenth century were militants with moral causes.
As the infant science grew to arrogant and lusty youth, rationalists changed into empiricists. What was first the "higher criticism" of religion became materialistic denial and agnostic indifference. Ethics was emancipated from the strangling clutch of dogmatic formula and gathered to the bosom of the rising school of political philosophers, forerunners of the era of revolution. The slushy sentimentalism of "divine grace" and the "blood of the lamb" meant little to these children of nature. One of them demanded: "Is it simple, is it natural that God should go in search of Moses to speak to Jean Jacques Rousseau?" There was no answer.
Christianity was slowly reduced to a state of theological pragmatism, in which a man's own guess about religious matters was considered to be as much as anyone could know. The Roman Church was admitted to contribute a stately ritualism preserving certain "emotional values" fraught with esthetic significance. Protestantism was symbolically married to the liberal tradition of political philosophy and religion generally gained the position of "an important institution serving the spiritual requirements of modern social life." Then, too, it is part of our glorious "tradition." But for knowledge, men turned to science.
It is impossible to consider the history of the conception of form apart from this context of intellectual development. Each cultural cycle has its dominant themes and directions of inquiry, giving emphasis to one aspect of the problem and casting into the shadow others of equal and sometimes far greater importance. In the present epoch, only the "scientific" aspect receives serious attention. Biologists seek to discover the mechanics of living things, to describe the conditions of their growth and the incidents of their decline. How well their work has been done is clear from the last three articles of this series. Nevertheless, the criticism offered by H.P.B. sixty-three years ago in Isis Unveiled has lost none of its validity. She wrote:Modern science vainly seeks a first cause among the permutations of molecules; [Plato] sought and found it amid the majestic sweep of worlds. For him it was enough to know the great scheme of creation and to be able to trace the mightiest movements of the universe through their changes to their ultimates. The petty details, whose observation and classification have so taxed and demonstrated the patience of modern scientists, occupied but little of the attention of the old philosophers....In the Platonic philosophy, all the problems of cosmogony, all processes of nature and modes of development are conceived in terms of purpose. To show that a process fulfilled the needs of evolving intelligence was considered by Plato to be sufficient explanation. Moral philosophy must teach a doctrine of ends, and Plato, above all else, was a moral philosopher. Thus, except for an occasional hint as to its other relations, Plato treated the astral body as the seat of the tumultuous elements of passion and desire in the human organization, calling it the irrational soul.(4) In the Greek Mysteries, the astral body had its distinctive appellation of eidolon, the more ethereal and shadowy representation of ourselves.(5) Although this aspect of the astral body is definitely presented in the Gorgias, and suggested in the Phaedo, Plato was more concerned with what H.P.B. has called "our more intimate astral, or inner man, who is but too often the evil genius of the embodied entity called man."(6) The formative function of the astral body was described in greater detail by his philosophical heirs and successors, the Neoplatonists. Plato's writings were intended for popular consumption, and he recorded his philosophy in a form suited to the needs of the men of his time -- a form, moreover, that has served as well the needs of some seventy generations since.
The unprofitableness of modern scientific research is evinced in the fact that while we have a name for the most trivial particle of mineral, plant, animal, and man, the wisest of our teachers are unable to tell us anything definite about the vital force which produces the changes in these several kingdoms.(3)
Modern biology gives us precise and detailed descriptions of the processes of organic development; it provides, in short, a remarkably complete empirical account of the functions of the astral body. Plato would have regarded this knowledge as virtually useless. "How does it help you to be better men?" he would have asked our modern investigators. As an adept, Plato could not have been ignorant of these processes, but rather regarded them as the proper study of initiates -- men who had learned well all the moral lessons of human life and who thereby had earned the right to master the secrets of occult physiology. In the words of H.P.B:...the dullest of Plato's disciples could tell more about the great cosmic laws and their mutual relations, and demonstrate a familiarity with and control over the occult forces which lie behind them, than the most learned professor in the most distinguished academy of our day.(7)A few years ago an American scientist succeeded in fertilizing artificially the ovum of a rabbit, so that it gave birth to fatherless offspring. Asked some searching questions about the value of this experiment, he answered crisply, "I am not interested in the implications of the work."(8) Thus far have we come from Plato! Mr. Judge speaks of a time in the twentieth century when genuine philosophy will once more find a home in the Western World -- philosophy founded on the teachings of the Secret Doctrine. But before modern science can drink at the fountains of occult truth, it will have to acquire a profound regard for "implications." Perhaps the massive tragedy of the twentieth century -- the death, disaster and ruin of our time -- will help mankind, and scientists in particular, to move in this direction.
The modern scientific view of form has two theories or "explanations." Both originate in Greek philosophy. When the men of Renaissance Europe first began to ponder the problem of form as a question on which religion offered no satisfaction, they turned to the atomic theory of Democritus. Atoms, fortuitously striking one another, finally fall into those arrangements we call organic matter. This solution seemed sufficiently impious to be acceptable to the most determined atheists. In theory the atoms gained a measure of orderly conduct from the Newtonian mechanics; no one had ever seen them, but it was sensible to suppose that the microcosms behaved like the macrocosms of the heavens. Chemistry, with its teachings of affinity or valence, increased the complexity of the atomic theory, but at the same time added to its plausibility. The intrinsic properties of the different elements, producing these affinities, were simply accepted as facts given -- no explanation sought or required. Great "moral" support was afforded to the atomic -- now become the "mechanistic" -- view by Darwin, who proposed that the development of the species be attributed to causes as fortuitous as those which make atoms aggregate into organic masses. Until the twentieth century this view of form flourished with no contradictors to disturb its career, unless we count the faint objections of the vitalists. The chief effect of vitalistic arguments was the barrage of sneers they elicited from the mechanists.
Then came the dawn -- or the night, according to one's scientific taste. Atoms, it was learned, have "free will." As individuals, they refuse to conform to Newton's or any other laws of motion. Scientific Jeremiahs began to wail, composing pathetic dirges for the law of cause and effect. The difficulties of atomic physics are summed up by the learned "principle of indeterminacy," which simply says that nobody knows which way an electron will jump, although the conduct of a billion or so of them is statistically predictable. As soon as this news became known, liberal theologians opened wide their arms to physical theory, proclaiming that the gap between science and religion was closed at last. Philosophical journals rendered homage to the humble atom for freeing the wills of metaphysicians. Vitalists cheered and said, "We told you so." But the mechanists merely muttered that all this talk about free will was nonsense, that our inability to find physical causes for intra-atomic eccentricities meant only that they had not yet been found. The free-willers, however, have the support of common sense, and are likely to gain the day.
While this revolution in physical theory was going on, biologists were making discoveries of parallel significance. Psychologists and embryologists found that by no stretch of the imagination can physical and chemical laws be made to account for the phenomena of organic development. Living protoplasm has complex patterns which seem to arise from no physical source and which guide the proliferation of cells into various highly differentiated forms by means wholly inexplicable in either physics or chemistry. For practical purposes, modern biology says, Patterns are, to which laconic assertion nothing can be added.
This is simply the formal materialism of Aristotle. If these patterns be traced to matter itself, then the theory is reduced to atomism. If the forms come from some plane of ideal reality, then the doctrine is Platonic and under logical development must finally arrive at the Theosophic conception of Cosmic Mind, the repository of archetypes of all the forms in nature. But if, as with modern biologists, it is simply said that the forms exist, without attempting to assign their cause, then the problem is exactly where Aristotle left it. Theology, it will be remembered, found the Aristotelian doctrine useful in supplementing the Mosiac story of creation. The schoolmen of the Middle Ages, having plenty of time to brood over the words of Divine Revelation, found it woefully lacking in technical details, and with great casuistic subtlety wove into a single fabric the teachings of Aristotle and God.
Thus the modern scientist, if he knows anything of the history of philosophy, will say that there are two available theories as to the genesis of form. There is the doctrine of the Atomists, which has become the working hypothesis of the biochemist and mechanistic biologists, and there is the Aristotelian view which simply accepts the fact of dynamic form, calling it "organizer," "morphogenetic field," "entelechy," or, in the livelier terms of scientific journalism "invisible architect" or "deathless engineer." Of course, most biologists would be horrified at the thought of taking any "metaphysical" position at all on this question, but that does not alter the facts.
The astral body, agreeably to modern biological discovery, is an electro-magnetic field; and more -- it is a living and intelligent structure. So long as forces were thought to be simply mechanical, the astral body was inconceivable to the scientific mind. The breakdown of mechanical physics led to the field theory, suggesting that the invisible may nevertheless be substantial and real. Field theory in physics led to field theory in biology, which now promises to eliminate mechanism from the study of life. With the downfall of the mechanics of inert masses, we may expect the passing of the distinction between "living" and "dead" matter, and similarly, with the study of plant and animal forms as problems of a vital electro-magnetic field, there may soon emerge the theory that intelligence is the real in all living beings, of which bodies are merely the relatively static representation. These developments are necessary to a truly scientific understanding of the astral body.
In the seven centuries which elapsed from the closing of the Neoplatonic School in Athens to the peak of scholastic speculation, all creative intelligence was gradually transferred from beings to the one great being --the anthropomorphic personal God. The scientific spirits of the Renaissance, having no more liking for theological dictators than freedom-loving men of today have for political dictators, sought to escape from the dominion of the Church by reading God out of the Cosmos. This they accomplished by transferring His functions to the materialistic trinity of Inert Matter, Senseless Force and Blind Chance. At the moment of the supreme elevation of these three "gods" of Materialism, H. P. Blavatsky came upon the scene with the teaching that behind every force is an intelligence; within every form, a soul. This restored to every living being its spiritual dignity, giving purpose and meaning to nature and divine responsibility to man. It was her hope, and of Those who sent her, that as the foundations of materialism began to crumble men would start rebuilding a temple of thought to the God within, to the living Intelligence everywhere, and would recognize that the laws of nature are laws of Life. The considerations to which this series of articles has been devoted show that modern thought has reached the threshold of the invisible universe, beyond which lies the path to occult truth. It remains for the science of the future to cross that threshold and so end "the quarrel between the profane and the esoteric sciences," which "depends on the belief in, and demonstration of, the existence of an astral body within the physical, the former independent of the latter."
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
TRUTH, however distasteful to the generally blind majorities, has always had her champions, ready to die for her, and it is not the Occultists who will protest against its adoption by Science under whatever new name. But, until absolutely forced on the notice and acceptance of Scientists, many an Occult truth will be tabooed, as the phenomena of the Spiritualists and other psychic manifestations were, to be finally appropriated by its ex-traducers without the least acknowledgment or thanks.
--The Secret Doctrine.
[Reminder: THE ASTRAL BODY: HISTORICAL STUDIES series has now ended.]
[Note: Here is the link to "The Synthesis of Occult Science", the article by William Q. Judge that was quoted from to begin the above article. --Compiler.]
THE MYSTERY OF REGENERATION
(This is the article that was referred
to in the 6th article of the series
that ended with the above article.)
"THE ASTRAL BODY: HISTORICAL STUDIES"
series complete list of articles.
Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".
EIGHT (8) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:
(1) The Secret Doctrine I, xlv.
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(2) To this day, the doctrine is maintained! The recent Report on Doctrine to the Church of England, while admitting its "special difficulties," nevertheless defends the Resurrection of the Body because it "excludes the notion that the future life is impoverished and ghostly." (Hibbert Journal, October, 1938, p. 92.) It is, of course, a cardinal dogma of the Church of Rome.
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(3) Op. cit. I, 237.
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(4) S.D. I, 181. [Note: I think there was a typesetting error here, because I did not find the subject referred to in the S.D., but in the same volume and page number in Isis Unveiled. --Compiler.]
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(5) The Key to Theosophy, p. 96.
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(6) S.D. I, 639.
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(7) Isis I, 237.
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(8) Collier's, March 20, 1937.
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