THEOSOPHY, Vol. 31, No. 6, April, 1943
(Pages 246-252; Size: 21K)
(Number 1 of a 10-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 10 articles have the same name.]

CYCLES OF PSYCHISM

I

PSYCHISM is a term used in Theosophical literature to denote very loosely every kind of mental phenomena, such as mediumship and the higher sensitiveness, hypnotic receptivity, inspired prophecy, simple clairvoyance or seeing in the Astral Light, and truly divine seership; in short, the word conveys every phase and manifestation of the powers and potencies of the human and the divine Souls.

The psychic or soul nature of man has powers of its own, which may be studied in relation to the physical organism. The coordinated functioning of psychic and physical powers results in the familiar processes of waking life -- perception, feeling, thinking, remembering, imagining and willing. Modern psychology has studied these processes with such devotion, and on the assumption that the soul or ego has no powers of its own separate from the body, that the educated person of today knows little or nothing of the higher psychology of the spiritual man, and is even ignorant of the subtle forces which have their play in the lower psychic or astral man. Hence the mysteries with which present study of psychic phenomena is surrounded. It is safe to say that not one of the modern investigators of the psychic world, scientist or some other, has perfected his control of the inner faculties and powers with which every man is endowed, so that he may exercise them independently of the body, or, at least, free of the illusions of sense perception. How, then, can there be knowledge of these things, without the control which is the prerequisite to knowledge in every branch of science?

Mediumship is the abnormal manifestation of psychic powers, and is generally the result of disease of some sort, or prolonged psychological malpractice. The few determined individuals who have developed themselves to the point where these powers are obedient servants of the human will, have been known through history as adepts. As Madame Blavatsky has written:

The exercise of magical power is the exercise of powers natural, but superior to the ordinary functions of Nature. A miracle is not a violation of the laws of Nature, except for ignorant people. Magic is but a science, a profound knowledge of the Occult forces in Nature, and of the laws governing the visible or the invisible world. Spiritualism in the hands of an Adept becomes Magic, for he is learned in the art of blending together the laws of the universe, without breaking any of them and thereby violating Nature. In the hands of an experienced medium, Spiritualism becomes unconscious sorcery; for, by allowing himself to become the helpless tool of a variety of spirits, of whom he knows nothing save what the latter permit him to know, he opens, unknown to himself, a door of communication between the two worlds, through which emerge the blind forces of nature lurking in the astral light, as well as good and bad spirits.

To doubt magic is to reject History itself, as well as the testimony of ocular witnesses thereof, during a period embracing over 4,000 years. Beginning with Homer, Moses, Hermes, Herodotus, Cicero, Plutarch, Pythagoras, Apollonius of Tyana, Simon the Magician, Plato, Pausanias, Iamblichus, and following this endless string of great men -- historians and philosophers, who all of them either believed in Magic or were magicians themselves -- and ending with our modern authors such as W. Howitt, Ennemoser, G. des Mousseaux, Marquis de Mirville and the late Eliphas Levi, who was a magician himself.

Madame Blavatsky reveals the ridiculous character of the claims of spiritualists that such sages and great teachers were "mediums":
Fancy Christ, Moses, or an Apollonius of Tyana, controlled by an Indian guide! Spiritual mediums were better known in those days to the ancients, than they are now to us. The inspired sibyls, pythonesses, and other mediums were entirely guided by their high priest and those who were initiated into the esoteric theurgy and mysteries of the temples. Theurgy was Magic; as in modern times, the sibyls and pythonesses were mediums; but their high priests were magicians. That is the reason why no trash was allowed to be given by unprogressed spirits in the days of old. The oracles of the sibyls and inspired priestesses could never have affirmed Athens to be a town in India, or jumped Mount Ararat from its native place down to Egypt.

At the same time, the ancients had their illegal mediums -- those who belonged to no special temple -- and thus the spirits controlling them, unchecked by the expert hand of the magician, were left to themselves, and had all the opportunity to perform their capers on their helpless tools. Such mediums were generally considered obsessed and possessed, which they were in fact. According to Bible phraseology, these mediums were ordered to be put to death, for the intolerant Moses, the magician, who was learned in the wisdom of Egypt, had said, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Alone the Egyptians and the Greeks, even more humane and just than Moses, took such into their temples, and, when found unfit for the sacred duties of prophecy, cured them in the same way as Jesus Christ cured Mary of Magdala and many others.

Thus Magic exists, and has existed, ever since prehistoric ages. Beginning in history with the Samothracian Mysteries, it followed its course uninterruptedly, and ended for a time with the expiring theurgic rites and ceremonies of Christianized Greece; then reappeared for a time again with the Neoplatonic, Alexandrian school, and, passing by initiation to sundry solitary students and philosophers, safely crossed the medieval ages, and notwithstanding the furious persecutions of the Church, resumed its fame in the hands of such Adepts as Paracelsus and several others, and finally died out in Europe with the Count St. Germain and Cagliostro, to seek refuge from frozen-hearted scepticism in its native country of the East.

While knowledge of the laws governing psychic phenomena was lost to the western world with the rise of Christianity, the phenomena themselves did not cease occurring. From biblical days until the present, religious history is full of accounts of psychic inspiration. The crudely emotional "speaking in tongues" is with us yet, and just as the ancient Jews were guided by prophecy, so there are today Christian sects who turn for guidance to the vaticinations of a select few of the sensitive among their members. The visions and visitations experienced by so many of the Christian Fathers were essentially psychic. The demonology of the Dark Ages, the witch-hunting and heretic-baiting for hundreds of years by "Christian" priests, the periodic outbreaks of wild enthusiasm for this, that or the other practice or belief -- these are the evidences of psychism through western history. When the manifestations have been associated with genuine religious devotion, and personal purity, then a kind of spiritual vision, a higher psychism, reveals itself in the clairvoyant perception and unmistakable prophetic power which develop in sensitive individuals. But psychism in company with evil ways and low habits of thought always leads to unspeakable moral degradation. The fate of mediums who employ their unnatural gifts for pay is sufficient evidence of this. The bartering of psychic powers for material gain is a kind of prostitution that Nature finds intolerable, and the price paid by the medium for his weakness is often the loss of personal immortality.

The lives of the Saints of the Catholic Church are an almost uninterrupted history of psychic phenomena. Unquestioning faith in the reality of the other world, coupled with child-like belief in Christian dogmas, brought intense psychic experiences to thousands of loyal Christians. As the historian, Ennemoser, relates:

Visions were most frequent in convents, where solitude, ascetic practices, fasting, uncared-for diseases, as spasmodic convulsions, the unoccupied, often dreaming and overflowing imagination, gave numerous opportunities for the formation of these objective pictures. The history of the middle ages, even as far as the sixteenth century, is scarcely more than a history of magnetism and a universal system of so-called witchcraft and magic. Visions were so common that rules were given to distinguish those of divine origin from false delusions and the temptations of the devil.
Many of the "witches" burned at the stake by the Church were simple psychics, mediums, who knew only that they suffered inward experiences that they could not understand and could not control. In other cases, these manifestations took the form of what the sensitive imagined to be divine inspiration, leading to a life of consecration in the service of this spiritual guidance. Joan of Arc was such a pure psychic, suffering the usual fate of the reformer who dares to oppose the spiritual monopoly of established religion. It is characteristic of every psychic vision that the medium sees the apparition, or hears voices, which seem to confirm or elaborate upon the beliefs of the medium himself. Thus even the great Swedenborg, whose visions startled all Europe, and whose clairvoyant report of the Stockholm fire convinced even Emmanuel Kant of the existence of this power, was subject to misconception and error. The invisible world of psychic perception is as diverse in its aspects as the physical one, and infinitely more difficult to understand. Thus Swedenborg, claiming to have met the inhabitants of Mercury in the spirit-world, described them as being dressed in clothes such as were worn in Europe at that time. No psychic ever sees quite correctly, however remarkable may be the approximations of his sight.

There are laws of psychic perception, which may be stated as follows:

Thought passes to and fro from man to man. At a higher level it does the same from higher intelligences to man, and all in a sphere beyond the material. Men, from different causes, rising to different levels above their ordinary outer selves, come into the psychic plane where all is spread out before them. They see and read only that for which they are fitted, and comprehend only that for which they are prepared. Through conscious or unconscious exaltation they rise into or come in contact with some current of thought or unspoken word which enters their brains by divers roads. Comprehended partly, perhaps, but being entirely foreign to their normal personal manner of thinking, -- knowing they have heard a voice -- it is ascribed to a Spirit, although in fact it may be the thought of a living man they hear, feel, see or are repeating. All men who by effort or training lift themselves consciously, or are lifted unconsciously above the material, secure the wisdom, knowledge and inspiration of other planes. How much they understand of these visions will depend upon their knowledge of occult philosophy.

Clairvoyant perception, unless supported by philosophical perspective, is absolutely unreliable. Clairvoyants have on innumerable occasions given correct descriptions of events and persons they could never have known or seen, but other innumerable times they have failed. If it were not always a matter of doubt and difficulty, natural clear-seers would have long ago demonstrated the unerring range of their vision by discovering uncaught criminals, by pointing out where stolen property could be recovered, by putting a finger on a moral plague-spot which is known to exist but cannot be located. Yet this they have not done, and theosophists are confirmed in the old teaching that the field of clairvoyance is full of delusions.

The prime cause for delusion is that the thought of anything makes around the thinker an image of the thing thought about. And all images in this thought-field are alike, since we remember an object by our thought-image of it, and not by carrying the object around in our heads. Hence the picture in our aura of what we have seen in the hands of another is of the same sort -- for untrained seers -- as our ideas on the subject of events in which we have not participated. So a clairvoyant may, and in fact does, mistake these thought-pictures one for the other, thus reducing the chances of certainty. If an anxious mother imagines her child in danger and with vivid thought pictures the details of a railway accident, the picture the seer may see will be of something that never happened and is only the product of emotion or imagination.

Mistakes in identity come next. These are more easily made on the astral plane, which is the means for clairvoyance, than even upon the visible one, and will arise from numerous causes. So numerous and complex is this that to fully explain it would not only be hopeless but tedious. For instance, the person, say at a distance, to whom the clairvoyant eye is directed may look entirely different from reality, whether as to clothing or physiognomy. He may, in the depths of winter, appear as clad in spring clothing, and your clairvoyant reports that, adding probably that it symbolizes something next spring. But, in fact, the spring clothing was due to his thoughts about a well-worn comfortable suit of this sort, throwing a glamor of the clothing before the vision of the seer. Cases like this have been verified. The lover, dwelling on the form and features of his beloved, or the criminal upon the one he has wronged, will work a protean change and destroy identification.

Another source of error will be found in the unwitting transfer to the clairvoyant of your own thoughts, much altered either for better or for worse. Or even the thoughts of someone else whom you have just met or just heard from. For if you consult a seer on some line of thought, having just read the ideas on the same subject of another who thinks very strongly and very clearly, and whose character is overmastering, the clairvoyant will in all likelihood feel the influence of the other and give you his ideas.

In the light of these principles, it should be plainly evident that psychic visions are usually dressed up by the imagination of the seer, and the history of psychism gives full support to this explanation. In the Middle Ages, sensitives saw angels and devils. Nuns had visions of Christ, and suffered from strange delusions of heavenly marriage, showing the close relation between the sexual instincts and the psychic or astral plane. The correlation of sex aberrations with religious mania is well-known to psychiatrists, and the similar connection of the commoner types of obsession has been observed by physicians who have tried in vain to bring some relief to weak-willed victims of spiritualistic practices. One has simply to turn the pages of Mediæval books on witchcraft, such as Malleus Maleficarum, the "Witch-hammer," published in 1489, to see that the Incubi and Succubi which so horrified pious Christians of that day, became, in the nineteenth century, the "spirit" brides and grooms of modern Spiritualism.

The form taken by psychic manifestation is determined primarily by the moral level of those to whom it comes, and in bright relief to the commoner types of psychic experience are the great healing powers born to certain philanthropic physicians of the past. Such a man was Valentine Greatrakes, who lived in Ireland in the seventeenth century. In 1662 he discovered that he had mesmeric power, and was able to cure diseases of all sorts simply by the laying on of hands. After healing thousands in his native country, he went to England, exercising his beneficent power for the relief of many eminent persons, all of whom testified to the miraculous nature of his cures. The famous scientist, Robert Boyle, was among those who acknowledged the healing power possessed by Greatrakes.

The seventeenth century was quite literally a continuous drama of psychic phenomena. The visions of such religious leaders as George Fox and John Bunyan began at about the middle of the century. Fox made it clear that he believed himself inspired by the Deity, and the Quaker doctrine of Inner Light, a pure and ennobling form of psychism, has continued to the present day. Bunyan, more extravagant in his emotionalism, seems to have gone mad under the influence of "the spirit." Soon after his marriage, in 1649, "he prayed to trees, to a broomstick, to the parish bull. He tried to work miracles, ordering the puddles in the road to dry up and staking his salvation on the result." His later life was more rational, although Grace Abounding, which Bunyan wrote in 1666, is in these days said to contain "particulars sufficient to fill up the certificate and case-book of a mental specialist." One of the founders of the Philadelphian Brethren, an English mystical society of the seventeenth century, was Dr. John Pordage, whose visions were even more dramatic than those of the more familiar religious leaders of the day. Pordage relates that he and the members of his society witnessed daily scenes in heaven and hell. "They beheld the Prince of Darkness, and damned souls in the shape of men, pass by in grand procession in chariots of clouds, and surrounded by lesser spirits in swarms." The visions, claimed the Philadelphians, continued for months.

George Fox often performed "spiritual" cures, and many of the early Friends manifested clairvoyant and prophetic powers. The Quakers certainly discovered some minor secrets of occultism, for Cotton Mather relates that they used in his time to proselyte people by merely stroking or breathing upon them. Persecuted as they were, mesmeric powers must have grown among them as one result of their constant devotion to what they believed to be right.

The rappings, movement of objects and other wonderful occurrences that have come to be associated with modern spiritualism, have been known in every age. In 1716-17, the home of John Wesley, who was later to found the sect of Methodism, was the theater of knockings, groans and even apparitions. Full accounts of these happenings have been left by the Wesley family. Later in the eighteenth century, about a hundred years before the phenomena of 1848, Germany and Switzerland had their spiritualists, developing, or believing in phenomena identical almost in all particulars with those of America. Among the various manifestations were so-called "spirit writing," and other forms of intercourse with what many thought to be the spirit world. In 1756, Emmanuel Swedenborg sat in a house in Gottenberg and described the great fire that was then raging in Stockholm, 300 miles away. Two days later a courier from Stockholm confirmed Swedenborg's account in every detail, from the time the fire started to when it was put out, even as to the particular houses that were destroyed.


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CYCLES OF PSYCHISM
II
(Part 2 of a 10-part series)

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