THEOSOPHY, Vol. 31, No. 7, May, 1943
(Pages 303-308; Size: 18K)
(Number 2 of a 10-part series)

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



WHILE interest in Spiritualism gradually died out during the closing years of the nineteenth century, and was seldom heard from in the first decade of the twentieth century, the loss of loved ones occasioned by World War I brought a sudden revival of the doctrines of the Summer Land of spirits. The spiritualistic writings of the eminent physicist, Sir Oliver Lodge, came into prominence, and the pitiful account of his "communications" with his son Raymond, killed in the war, won the sympathy of the few and the curiosity of the many. A study printed by the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (July, 1942) reports that the number of American magazines devoted to Spiritualism grew from fifty-two in 1915 to a peak of 136 in 1920, then falling off to fifty-eight in 1930. English publications dealing with the same subject increased from seven to seventy during the same period and fell off to fourteen in 1925.

Similar increases occurred for journals in the more dignified field of "psychic research." One of the effects of this revival of interest was the Scientific American investigation of "Margery," famous Boston medium, which, while probably increasing the circulation of that worthy magazine for a short period, accomplished little for the science of psychic research. The committee of scientists, headed by Dr. Harlow Shapley of the Harvard Observatory, who sat with the medium, officially reported nothing of importance, although the eminent psychologist, Dr. William McDougall, who served on the committee, a few years later was instrumental in establishing the program of study of telepathy (now called Extra Sensory Perception) at Duke University. Dr. McDougall's motives in undertaking psychic research were almost unique among scientific men in that they approximated the reason that H. P. Blavatsky gave for the intelligent investigation of supernormal phenomena. He said in 1923:

Unless Psychical Research can discover facts incompatible with materialism, materialism will continue to spread. No other power can stop it; revealed religion and metaphysical philosophy are equally helpless before the advancing tide. And if that tide continues to rise and advance as it is doing now, all signs point to the view that it will be a destroying tide, that it will sweep away all the hard-won gains of humanity, all the moral traditions built up by the efforts of countless generations for the increase of truth, justice and charity.
In 1937, just one year before his death, Dr. McDougall repeated his appeal for the rejection of materialism with some leading questions in the first issue of a journal devoted to the investigation of the supernormal powers in man. "What," he asked, "are the relations of mind and matter?"
Are mental processes always and everywhere intimately and utterly dependent upon material or physical organizations? Do the volitions, the strivings, the desires, the joys and sorrows, the judgments and beliefs of men make any difference to the historical course of the events of our world, as the mass of men at all times have believed? Or does the truth lie with those few philosophers and scientists who, with or without some more or less plausible theory in support of their view, confidently reject well-nigh universal beliefs, telling us that the physical is coextensive with the mental and that the powers and potentialities of mind may be defined by the laws of the physical sciences?
The philosophic interest in psychic research harbored by Dr. McDougall has been all too rare. Even the somewhat trivial methods introduced in the Duke program of investigation -- the "guessing" of cards stamped with symbols -- have been imitated in forms of parlor entertainment, and too often the telepathic powers discovered by individuals in themselves have stimulated a course of mediumistic "development." It is a pity that Dr. McDougall did not realize the importance of "metaphysical philosophy" as the all-important guide to investigation of psychic phenomena. Nothing short of philosophy has the power to prevent the blind rushing of multitudes after the will-'o-the-wisps of "spirits," and to sharpen the discrimination of those who find hidden capacities blossoming within themselves. The increasing instances of psychism in the late thirties and early forties of the present century are but preludes to a mighty storm of phenomenalism and wonder-seeking, destined, according to the law of cycles taught by Theosophy, to become a psychological hurricane during the period that is now almost upon us.

While the nineteenth century cycle of psychism did not show its real strength until 1848, there was at that time no planetary war to hasten the longing for communication with those unnaturally cut off from life in the full bloom of youth. Then, as now, premonitory symptoms occurred, as among the Shakers, and there were the experiences of the American seer, Andrew Jackson Davis, and of Daniel Dunglas Home, the English medium, but no foundation for extensive acceptance of the phenomena existed before 1848. Only the heterodox followers of Anton Mesmer had any intimation of the psychological laws which might have helped to explain the mediumistic "miracles," and these few outcasts soon joined the Spiritualistic movement, of which they became some of the leaders and interpreters. It remained for Madame Blavatsky, in 1875, to give voice to the essential warnings which spiritualists so sorely needed.

In the present, however, the original trail leading to the wilderness of psychism has been beaten into a broad highway by a whole cavalcade of "seekers" and exploiters who have been moving in that direction for nearly a hundred years. Pseudo-theosophical sects have willingly exchanged the jewel of spiritual knowledge for the glittering baubles of "psychic experience," each of these groups leading to emotional intoxication its quota of followers and all too willing believers. America has for generations been victimized by Hindus and other orientals whose ridiculous pretensions to adeptship would be at once rejected by discerning easterners, but whose abracadabra and few psychological tricks have been sufficient to inhibit the moral perceptions of occidental seekers for novelty in religion. Occult revelations are springing up like mushrooms and poisoning unwary minds with "easy way" promises that differ only in form from the appeals of charlatans and religious frauds all through the past. Borrowing even the nomenclature of Theosophy, blending in bits of traditional Christianity and adding the hocus-pocus of forgotten rites and ceremonies, the vultures who feed on the soul-weaknesses of humanity are sure to gain temporary triumphs during the first tidal wave of twentieth century psychism, soon to reach its point of flood. Never had the term "witches' brew," a juster application, whether with literary or literal meaning.

Added to these currents of the cycle is the tragic retribution now being exacted by the East from the West. For centuries the arrogant and selfish conquerors from Europe have sailed the seven seas, taking what they wished, enslaving all who might serve them, scouting the rare and wonderful treasures of mind and soul preserved for millennia in the Orient, but assiduously gathering in the "rightful" tribute of Empire. Now, when moral compunctions are rising, and humble students from the West pilgrimage to India and Tibet, what do they find? Not the Wisdom Religion, which they would not have on a salver, brought to them years before by a Teacher sent from those exploited lands. No, the habits of sensationalism and romantic adventure, of sacerdotalism and caste distinction, and a conscious ignorance that undermines the self-reliance of the soul -- these, and other weaknesses of which race pride and a canting eloquence are two -- led them by irresistible attraction to "teachers" of equivalent moral obliquity.

There is a law of occult development that works its inexorable way with all such children of their age who dare to raise the veil of Isis:

It is impossible to employ spiritual forces if there is the slightest tinge of selfishness remaining in the operator. For, unless the intention is entirely unalloyed, the spiritual will transform itself into the psychic, act on the Astral plane, and dire results may be produced by it.
It was not for nothing that Jesus urged his disciples, "Come ye out and be ye separate." Unless the heart be purged of all impurity, all compromises with human weakness and desire set aside, no door will be found to the sacred temple of truth, and the terrible occult reality will inevitably destroy all those who rashly approach without learning first the rule of obedience to time-honored laws.

The scientific investigation of spiritualism and psychic phenomena has pursued its soulless technique for more than sixty years, bringing no particular knowledge of the laws under which the phenomena occur, but at least convincing all those who have honestly looked into the field that supernormal events are a reality, whatever may be their meaning. While psychic research is still a somewhat sectarian cultus on the fringe of orthodox and accepted science, it cannot be denied that these conductors of psychic autopsies have slowly been gaining recognition. The first study of spiritualistic phenomena by a respected man of science was Prof. Wm. Crookes' Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism published in the 1870's. Since his day other leaders have lent their names to psychic research, the most outstanding in America being William James, the eminent psychologist. Charles Richet, the French biologist, admitted to a belief in the fact of psychic phenomena, candidly confessing his inability to explain them. In 1920 Baron von Schrenck Notzing's Phenomena of Materialization appeared, a weighty volume which left little doubt that materializations of subtle psychic forms do occur under propitious conditions. Another highlight in this progressive "naturalization" of psychic-science was the award in 1937 by Duke University of a doctoral degree in Philosophy to John F. Thomas, whose contribution to "knowledge" was a 320-page record of spiritualistic communications from his deceased wife!

Today more than one great university is quietly looking about for persons of mediumistic inclination, with whom to carry on "experiments," and the practice of hypnotism in the schools of higher learning, with students as subjects, has come to be the rule rather than the exception. The work of such investigators as J. W. Dunne, whose Experiment With Time (1927) brought the scientific world convincing testimony of the fact of prophetic dreams; of Dr. Charles Jung, who made the startling discovery that dream symbols are often constructed in the same pattern as alchemical figures of the Middle Ages; of Prof. Bart J. Bok, eminent astronomer of Harvard, who now admits that there is some truth in astrology -- claims and concessions of this sort by scientific men themselves have been undermining the scepticism of scientists for a decade or more. Dr. Einstein's qualified approval of Dr. Gustav Stromberg's attempt to provide a scientific basis for immortality in The Soul of the Universe must also have had its effect.

Meanwhile, literary figures, all the way from minor luminaries like Nina Wilcox Putnam and Stewart Edward White, to writers in True Story, have been purveying their psychic revelations to a growing crowd of enthusiasts and believers. The noted author of Credo in his last book, The Unobstructed Universe, revealed a lifelong interest in Spiritualism, and set forth claims to receiving from the spirit of the late Mrs. White, herself a sensitive, a new psychic cosmology and philosophy of life.

The Spiritualist cults are gaining a new lease on life by the recent appearance of several child mediums, innocent victims of psychic curiosity, whose achievements have been thoroughly exploited by the sensation-seeking press. Picture magazines, avid for circulation-getting material of this quality, have reproduced the more extraordinary of "spirit" photographs, drawn from private collections. Lilydale, New York, the Spiritualist Mecca, has more than once received dramatic presentation; notably, in Life for August 2, 1937, when the whole mythology of nineteenth century spiritualism was revived and illustrated, with appropriate description in the quip-like style of the Life editors. Rappings and apportation are becoming almost a common occurrence, and newspapers grace their feature sections with pictures of little girls whose presence has the mysterious effect of making bric-a-brac and other household objects move about the room.

Teachers of hypnotism abound, and despite warnings by physicians high in their profession, the fascination of this conjuror's art is interesting otherwise sober medical men in techniques that are broadly advertised by these modern Charcots. Especially pernicious attempts are being made in scientifically authoritative quarters to dispel the popular idea that hypnotism is "Black Magic," while the cures it has supposedly brought about are recounted in glowing terms.

Volumes could be devoted to description of these symptoms of renascent psychism, of the unbelievable naiveté of modern cultists, and of the tragic ignorance of the occult laws that men who imagine themselves scientists are on the verge of violating in extreme degree. Suffice it that the evidence is ample to show that the world of psychic interests and undertakings is a veritable jungle of confusion, full of fascinating sights and sounds, and rich in the attractions of escapism so longingly sought by a world strained almost to the breaking point by the hideous suffering of omnipresent war.

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:


Allied to the physical half of man's nature is reason, which enables him to maintain his supremacy over the lower animals, and to subjugate nature to his uses. Allied to his spiritual part is his conscience, which will serve as his unerring guide through the besetments of the senses; for conscience is that instantaneous perception between right and wrong, which can only be exercised by the spirit, which, being a portion of the Divine Wisdom and Purity, is absolutely pure and wise. Its promptings are independent of reason, and it can only manifest itself clearly, when unhampered by the baser attractions of our dual nature.

An entity must be considered as a direct emanation from the eternal Spirit of wisdom, and has to be viewed as possessed of the same attributes as the essence or the whole of which it is a part. Therefore, it is with a certain degree of logic that the ancient theurgists maintained that the rational part of man's soul (spirit) never entered wholly into the man's body, but only overshadowed him more or less through the irrational or astral soul, which serves as an intermediatory agent, or a medium between spirit and body. The man who has conquered matter sufficiently to receive the direct light from his shining Augoeides, feels truth intuitionally; he could not err in his judgment, notwithstanding all the sophisms suggested by cold reason, for he is ILLUMINATED. Hence, prophecy, vaticination, and the so-called Divine inspiration are simply the effects of this illumination from above by our own immortal spirit. 

--H. P. Blavatsky

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