THEOSOPHY, Vol. 8, No. 5, March, 1920
(Pages 129-137; Size: 29K)
(Number 3 of a 34-part series)
THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT(1)
IN its larger aspect the Theosophical Movement is the path of progress, individually and collectively. Wherever thought has struggled to be free, wherever spiritual ideas, as opposed to forms and dogmatism, have been promulgated, there the great Movement is to be discerned. Organized religions, systems of thought, governments, parties, sects -- all have their origins in efforts for the better co-operation of men, for conserving energy and putting it to use. They all in time become corrupted and must change, as the times change, as human defects come out, and as the great underlying Spiritual and Intellectual evolution compels such alterations.
Luther's Reformation must be counted as a part of the Theosophical Movement. Masonry has played a great and important part in it, and still does to some extent, for however restricted in application, however its great symbolism may have been forgotten or obscured, Masonry none the less stands for tolerance, for religious and intellectual liberty, for charity. The formation of the American Republic with its noble Declaration of Independence, its equality of all men before the law, its ideals of brotherhood and freedom from sectarian religious partialities must be accounted a great forward step in the Theosophical Movement. And with the abolition of human slavery in all the great Western nations during the course of the Nineteenth Century, another great step in the emancipation of the race must be acclaimed. The "divine right" of an orthodox god speaking through a vested clergy was rebelled against in every voice raised against the Catholic hierarchy. The "divine right" of kings was overthrown by the American and French revolutions. The "divine right" of one man or set of men to enslave another or others was the real issue involved in the American Civil War, and the emancipation of the serfs in Russia. Nationalism, socialism, universal suffrage, struggles between classes, between labor and capital, are all physical and metaphysical efforts toward freedom from bondage, however they may be mistaken, misguided, misled, perverted to selfish and destructive purposes and ends.
If the direct exoteric line of the Theosophical Movement of the last quarter of the nineteenth century is discerned to lie in the foundation and activities of the Parent Theosophical Society and its numerous children, the further application of the same principle of an underlying spiritual and intellectual evolution proceeding apace with its visible manifestation in physical effects, will disclose unerringly that the formation of the Society and the injection of the literature of Theosophy into the mind of the race must have been preceded and accompanied by collateral efforts and resultants. Those indirect preparations must necessarily be as varied as the varieties of human experience and belief regarding fundamental things. And those preparations do not issue in the first instance from any human invention or discovery, although the characters of certain individual human beings can be and must be the channels, conscious or unconscious, for the play of higher forces and the inspiration of higher Intelligences. The course of all Evolution is first Spiritual, then Mental, then Personal to certain gifted individuals. From these latter it permeates gradually the race mind, impelling the whole mass forward and upward, in however slow or slight degree. "Evolution" appears as physical only to those who do not look beneath the surface of events. The real process of Nature is ever cyclic: from the highest to the lowest on the invisible side of nature; correspondingly from the lowest to the highest on the visible side, as human vision is at present exercised in the fields of religion, philosophy and science.
Indirect but none the less potent and necessary concomitants of the spiritual and psychical aspects of the Theosophical Movement should therefore be looked for in all directions. One of these was and is the great tide of interest in Oriental religions and philosophies. Until the work of Madame Blavatsky was well under way none but the conqueror, the merchant, the missionary and the philologist, each immersed in his own especial objects, had any concern with the Far East. The mass of the populations of the western world were farther removed from the living East with its immense but alien wealth of metaphysical acquisitions, than from the dead and by-gone stores of ancient Greece and imperial Rome. Generally speaking, it was unknown and unsuspected that the great leaders of early European civilization, no less than their modern successors, had in fact derived their inspiration and their learning from the exhaustless treasury of Oriental thought and practice.
The ancient and venerated Bhagavad-Gita had been translated into English in a respectable rendition in the 60's. The riches of the Vedanta philosophy had thus to some extent become accessible to aspiring minds in the west. Some of the earliest copies came to the United States and into the possession of Thoreau and Emerson. Emerson's fame as a lecturer and writer and the nobility of his character made of him one of the most potent vehicles for the dissemination of the great and timeless ideas of the East. Through his life and work countless younger minds were given a freer range and truer basis, and by so much freed from the sterile and narrow dogmas of sectarian Christianity. Religion was seen by many not to be confined nor due to sects or special revelations. The celebrated "Brook Farm Community" spread far and wide transcendental aspirations and increased the thirst for freedom from the bondage of prevailing ideas.
Sir Edwin Arnold's "Light of Asia" was published in 1879, and read by hundreds of thousands in Europe and America. Myriads of minds gained for the first time some true ideas of the noble ethics and philosophy of Buddhism, and were amazed to find that for centuries antedating the time of Jesus his moral teachings had been imparted in their plenitude, coupled with a philosophy unknown to the Christian world at any time. Scholarly men began to give some heed other than purely scholastic to Oriental experience as embodied in its age-old literary remains. Despite the general contempt for "heathen" people and the exclusiveness of ignorance that had so long obtained, Western explorers began in earnest to adventure in search of the hereditary metaphysical possessions of the Orient, much in the same fashion as other Western adventurers had long exploited by conquest or by theft the physical treasures of the sacred East.
When Charles Darwin's great work, "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection," appeared in 1859, a powerful voice was raised against the deeply imbedded ideas of miracle and special creation by an omnipotent personal God, as engraved by centuries of dogmatic theologies. Mr. Darwin's work was not a direct attack either on revealed religion or the dead-letter creeds, but was limited to the presentation of an immense accumulation of ascertained facts in natural history, and to the submission of inferences drawn with inescapable logic from the facts thus far amassed. It was perhaps the most brilliant example in history of sustained inductive reasoning. He showed and proved physical man to be no "special creation," but an evolutionary part of the "natural order of things." "The Origin of Species," and its supplement, "The Descent of Man," published in 1871, were purely scientific works in the best sense of the term. "The Darwinian Theory" was received by the educated world with profound interest, followed by a tidal wave of revulsion as its bearing and effects upon current Christian dogmas and interpretations of the Bible were perceived. It was attacked on every hand and its author was subjected to every form of ridicule, slander and calumny that religious bigotry, ever the most fertile in malice and malevolence, could invent. Nevertheless, as scientific students verified its compilations of physical facts and tried conclusions with its logic, the theory gained headway in spite of all the storms of opposition. Its author lived to see his facts admitted, his conclusions accepted and adopted in whole or in part, even by his detractors. Corrupted and grotesquely distorted as the "Darwinian theory" has been in the intervening years, and however limited in its view of "evolution" from the standpoint of Occult philosophy, it none the less remains to this day the greatest advance in scientific hypothesis since the time of Newton, and aided largely in making possible the presentation of the triple evolutionary scheme outlined in the "Secret Doctrine." Whatever the defects of the "Darwinian Theory," they are due neither to lack of honesty, zeal nor industry on the part of its great author, but rather to the limitations of his mode of research and to the inherent defect of all inductive reasoning. So immense is the comparative advance of the Darwinian theory of evolution over the ideas accepted without a question but little more than a generation ago, that it is very difficult for the average mind of to-day to realize how this theory of physical evolution could ever have been questioned, denied, opposed, vilified.
In his "History of Civilization in England," a work foremost among the contributory factors we are discussing, Mr. Henry T. Buckle sums up these lessons of the past which, in our opinion, are equally a prophecy of the future of Theosophy and the Theosophical Movement, however unconscious Mr. Buckle may have been of the immense reach of the spiritual and intelligent Agencies at work behind the scenes of human life. In the first volume of his work, which appeared in 1857, Mr. Buckle writes (p. 257):
"Owing to circumstances still unknown there appear from time to time great thinkers who devoting their lives to a single purpose, are able to anticipate the progress of mankind, and to produce a religion or a philosophy by which important events are eventually brought about. But if we look into history we shall clearly see that, although the origin of a new opinion may be thus due to a single man, the result which the new opinion produces will depend on the condition of the people among whom it is propagated. If either a religion or a philosophy is too much in advance of a nation, it can do no present service, but must bide its time until the minds of men are ripe for its reception.... Every science, every creed has had its martyrs. According to the ordinary course of affairs, a few generations pass away, and then there comes a period when these very truths are looked upon as common-place facts, and a little later there comes another period in which they are declared to be necessary, and even the dullest intellect wonders how they could ever have been denied."
The student of Theosophy knows that the "circumstances still unknown" to Mr. Buckle, but which he intuitively recognized to exist, are in fact due to the Karmic provision of Spiritual and Intellectual evolution. Under Karmic Law, at transitional periods in the cyclic progression of Humanity, great Adepts restore to mankind through both direct and indirect channels some of the Wisdom once "known", but which in the lapse of time has become lost or obscured to mankind during the complexities of physical and personal evolution. For it must not be overlooked by the student that these Elder Brothers are themselves a part of the very stream of evolution to which we belong. As such, They take an active, albeit undisclosed and but too often unperceived share in the governance of the natural order of things. And although this part of the operation of cyclic law is often delayed and defied by the ignorance and prejudice of mankind in general, each rise and fall of civilizations is succeeded by a regeneration and further progression.
Other constructive factors in the preparatory work of the Theosophical Movement in our time may be seen in the great and sudden leap (from the standpoint of racial and national cycles) in invention, discovery, trade, -- means and methods of transportation, manufacture, and utilization of all the raw materials in nature -- all making in one way and another for interdependence, inter-communication, inter-respect in the great human family and the consequent breaking down of the barriers of nature, of human insularity and separateness -- a harrowing of the soil, whether by the means of war or peace, as a necessary prelude for once more sowing in that soil the seeds of Brotherhood. In the political field the great careers of Abraham Lincoln, of John Bright, of W. E. Gladstone, of Garibaldi, and many others, all made for the Rights of Man, as opposed to the forces of reaction.
In an iconoclastic sense an equally necessary and valuable pioneer work, in the breaking of the molds of fixed ideas into which human thought forever tends to crystallize, can be discerned in the work of such men as Robert G. Ingersoll in America, Charles Bradlaugh in England, and, in the pulpit, -- by Charles Kingsley and Henry Ward Beecher. Whether apparently pursuing the path of agnosticism, of a purely socialistic and materialistic altruism, or of a liberalized orthodoxy -- to use a paradox -- the efforts of all these commanded a wide following and broke to a large extent the hold of bigotry and intolerance. Philosophical speculations like those of Herbert Spencer, the esthetical spirit of men like Ruskin, the rebellious mind of Carlyle, the insubordination to the harrow of conventional ideas of writers like Dickens, George Eliot, and many others, all aided in the pioneer work of the Theosophical Movement. They may all be said to have fought for the unrestricted domain of the individual conscience, the larger outlook upon human life and human duty, as opposed to the ipse dixit of any -- "thus saith the Lord." All these individual and collective factors, some, perhaps dimly conscious of the germinal force at work within themselves, others aware only of the travail without issue of human existence as taught and experienced -- all were of value. All that in any way has made, or that makes, possible the arousal of serious attention to the Second and Third Objects of the Parent Theosophical Society, all that facilitates the revolt of the mind and conscience from creedal exclusiveness, all that might turn men from the sordid materialism of a one-life existence devoted to the pursuit of physical well-being -- all this is truly a concurrent part of the Theosophical Movement, and necessary to any attempt at the practical realization of its First Object -- Universal Brotherhood, the life of service as opposed to the life for self.
The ideas represented by such terms as revealed religion, a favored people, a personal God, miracles, heaven gained or hell earned by an "act of faith," a "vicarious atonement," selfish personal salvation -- the fetters forged by many centuries of ecclesiastical usurpation of authority over the ignorant mind and conscience; all these veritable Bastilles of moral and mental tyranny were under assault or siege during a large part of the nineteenth century. Their lettres de cachet no longer sufficed to imprison or outcast the individual mind, to forfeit the reputable estate of the individual rebel against the "established order." If the mind of the race could not be said to have been, at any epoch, in revolution against spiritual and mental intolerance, it was none the less true that everywhere could be found sincere and reverent minded men in outspoken rebellion against the dominant and dominating ideas of centuries. The "millennium" of sectarian religion was drawing to a close. Agnosticism, infidelity, bold questioning of the foundations hitherto esteemed inviolate, were no longer branded with the brand of infamy by the all-powerful sects, because the sects were no longer all-powerful. A spirit of liberty, often of license mistaken for liberty, was abroad in Europe and America.
Modern Spiritualism had perhaps more to do than any other single factor in producing among millions that transitional state of mind into which the granite ideas of centuries had begun to disintegrate. This Ishmael among faiths, under many names and proscriptions, is as old as the history and tradition of the race. In its modern form it began with the mediumistic manifestations of the Fox sisters at Rochester in New York State, U.S.A., in 1848. In the ensuing twenty-five or thirty years it spread, in spite of the most relentless opposition of the orthodox Christian sects, despite the ridicule of scientific students and the incredulity of the general public, despite also the real or pretended exposures of many of the most noted mediums, until its believers were numbered by millions in America, England, France, and in lesser numbers in other countries. Most celebrated of the mediums following the Fox sisters were the Americans, Andrew Jackson Davis, his disciple Thomas Lake Harris, P. B. Randolph, Daniel Dunglas Home, the Davenport Brothers, Henry Slade, Mrs. Emily H. Britten and the Eddy Brothers. All these were accused of fraud times without number, and some of them were made the victims of persecution. Nevertheless, the genuineness, variety and extent of their phenomena were attested by numbers of famous investigators of the highest character. Notable among those who from sceptical experimenters became convinced believers in the reality of the manifestations were Dr. Robert Hare of Philadelphia, Epes Sargent, Judge Edmunds the noted lawyer, Dr. Robert Chambers, Col. Olcott, and many other men of mark in America. In England Professor William Crookes, Alfred Russel Wallace, Professor Lodge, C. C. Massey, Lord Borthwick, Lord Lindsay, Sergeant Cox, and other men of the highest standing accepted the evidences after searching tests. In Germany the famous Professor Zöllner held prolonged sittings with Slade and others and published his conclusions and theories in the work, "Transcendental Physics," dealing with the phenomena as a problem in the "fourth dimension." In France the Emperor Napoleon and his wife, and in Russia the Czar and his consort became the firm friends and followers of D. D. Home. The papers of the Russian savant Dr. A. Aksakoff show how profound was his interest in the new phenomena. Léon-Dénizarth-Hippolyte Rivail, author of numerous popular and educational scientific texts for French schools, became so interested in the phenomena and so convinced of their value in establishing communication with discarnate intelligences, that he devoted his entire time to study and experiments. In order that the prejudices thus aroused should not interfere with his established literature and reputation he adopted the pseudonym of Allan Kardec, by which he is now almost universally known. Contrary to the general supposition, Allan Kardec was not himself a medium. All his experiments were conducted at second hand. He published two books of enormous circulation, the "Book of Spirits," and the "Book of Mediums," both of which were translated into English. The French editions of "Le Livre Des Esprits" alone attained a circulation of more than one hundred twenty thousand copies in the twenty years following the publication of the "revised edition" in 1857. It was Allan Kardec who, more than any other, made systematic efforts to establish a philosophy of spiritualism from the communications he obtained through carefully chosen mediums.
The spread of spiritualism was greatly facilitated by a number of factors. It required no education, no study, no moral discipline, on the part either of the medium or the believer. Its phenomena were not essentially antagonistic to religion, and the communications received more often than otherwise repeated the platitudes of the churches. In fact nearly every noted medium or reputable proponent of the phenomena was still orthodox in his acceptance of the fundamental dogmas of the Christian creeds. Amongst the bereaved who might be more or less sceptical or indifferent to orthodox teachings regarding after-death states, spiritualism made a profound appeal, for it offered the prospect of immediate assurance and consolation. To the materialistic and the curious-minded it offered a fascinating subject for facile experimentation. Nor can it be doubted that in the increasing dilemma of many, due to the "Darwinian Theory" of physical evolution, spiritualism offered an attractive middle ground of experimental evidence that enabled them, without a too great sacrifice of cherished religious convictions or logical common-sense, both to hold on to hereditary Christian ideas and to accept the theory of "evolution." And in this compromise many were doubtless moved by the example of Alfred Russel Wallace, co-originator with Mr. Darwin of his theory. Professor Wallace was himself a Spiritualist and a believer in Christianity, even if not altogether "orthodox" in his faith.
In a single generation Spiritualism, from being a pariah both as to its phenomena and its many theories, became almost respectable. Modern science, hitherto deaf, dumb and blind towards everything but the empirical acquisition of physical facts and hypotheses based on them, began, reluctantly and suspiciously, but still began, to take note of the phenomena of the metaphysical, which, if true, compelled the admission of other factors than "force and matter" as the causative agencies of the phenomenal world. But the general attitude of scientific students towards spiritualism afforded a curious parallel to the attitude of the theologians toward Darwinism: first derision and contempt, then wholesale denial and opposition, then grudging acceptance in whole or in part.
Into this mighty arena of contending forces entered H. P. Blavatsky with her Theosophical Society and her first public exposition of Theosophy. Looking backwards from the safe distance of the intervening years something of the significance of the mighty struggle between orthodox Christianity and modern materialistic science, between both these and the changeling, Spiritualism, can now be discerned in the light of history -- a light necessarily denied all the active combatants except H.P.B. herself. That she saw and foresaw what was and was to be, and was herself under no illusions is very clearly indicated in the preface of "Isis Unveiled" alone, without going deeper into the abundant evidences. Bitterly as Theology and Science might be opposed to each other with spear and trident, each was, at the last quarter of the nineteenth century, equally hostile to the new combatant, Spiritualism, armed with its net of weird phenomena and strange theories. Alone, friendly to all the gladiators, but without a solitary understanding ally among them all, H.P.B. was armed only with an unknown knowledge and an unknown purpose which must serve her for both sword and shield. It was too much for her to hope, however vast the reconstructive forces loosed by her in the world of public opinion, that those forces, their source, their scope and their significance, would be grasped by any but the very few. Nor did she expect that their effect on the mind of the race would be altogether and immediately constructive, however beneficent her purpose might be. Nor could she look for other than a hostile and retardative reception at the hands of vested and mercenary interests, the ignorant and the dogmatic, the predatory and contentious. Although her aim was to elevate the mind of the race, her method could only be to deal with that mind as she found it, by trying to lead it on, step by step; by seeking out and educating a few who, appreciating the majesty of the eternal Wisdom-Religion and devoted to "the great orphan -- humanity," could carry on her work with zeal and wisdom; by founding a society which, however small its numbers might be, would inject into the thought of the day the ideas, the doctrines, the nomenclature of the Wisdom-Religion.
Her first work was with the Spiritualists, as we have seen. When her powerful voice was raised in their defense, when she demanded that their wonders should be investigated with an open mind, their claims examined impartially, she was hailed as a friend, as an ally, as a champion of the new dispensation. When it was noised about through the indiscreet but well-meant laudations of Col. Olcott that she was herself a medium par excellence, she was acclaimed as a prophet. Her soirées and her Society were crowded with the rush of seekers demanding a sign. But when she refused to produce the hoped-for marvels, when in her conversations and letters to the press she hinted at other and truer explanations of the phenomena than "communications from the dead," when she uttered veiled warnings regarding the dangers of mediumship, she was listened to with surprise, with incredulity, with suspicions. And when at last "Isis Unveiled" was issued, a fierce revulsion set in, increasing as the years went on. She was denounced by some Spiritualists as a traitor to the "cause," slandered by others as a mere cheating trickster, not even an honest medium. Nearly every Spiritualist who had entered the Society departed from it, and she was generally regarded as quite as much the foe of Spiritualism as of orthodox religion or materialistic science. It is of more than passing significance that in almost every case the chief enemies of H.P.B. and her teachings, both within and without the original Theosophical Society and the many organizations which still employ that name, have been persons who were spiritualists, or whose natural tendencies have been in that direction. All the many attacks upon her name and fame throughout all the years, can be traced back to their source either in spiritualists or those addicted to mediumship and its practices.
What, then, were her earliest expositions of Theosophy, which sufficed on the one hand to provide the material for the growth and study of the Theosophical Society, and on the other hand, drew upon her devoted head from the very first, a series of attacks which, gradually increasing in range and intensity, culminated in the tremendous explosions of 1884-5? No student of the Theosophical Movement can afford to neglect the most painstaking examination of "Isis Unveiled." To a summary of its most important contents we may now turn our attention profitably, the collateral and accompanying circumstances having been outlined.
(To be Continued)
THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT
(Part 4 of a 34-part series)
"THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT"
series complete list of articles.
Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".
ONE (1) FOOTNOTE LISTED BELOW:
(1) Corrections, objections, criticisms, questions and comments are invited from all readers on any facts or conclusions stated in this series. --EDITORS.
Back to text.