Evolution and Mysticism

Having discovered a connecting link, a common basis, and to some apparently, extent an identical mission, subsisting between systems so apparently, and in certain respects so truly, diverse as philosophic agnosticism, mystical philosophy, and what we have termed the philosophy of poetry, it remains for us now to delineate a final correspondence which for the purposes of this book is the most important of all – that, namely, which exists between mystic doctrine the principle of evolution was formulated in its crudest shape by the author of The Vestiges of Creation the less instructed aspirations of humanity at the close of the eighteenth century had conceived the doctrine of perfectibility, and had recognized the operation of an arcane law which was continually ameliorating the condition of mankind. Under the influence of the poetic instrument which constituted the mind of Shelly, this pious faith was gradually exalted into a species of nebulous transcendentalism which, in the guise of its later developments, was held up to ridicule in the literary criticism of Edgar Allan Poe. Imperfect as the formulation was, it proved to be the precursor of a coming revelation; it was the first contact of uninitiated consciousness with an undiscovered; it was touched rather than understood; it was believed rather than known. But in the fullness of time the revelation came, and the scientific doctrine of evolution, uttering its fiat lux, cast a flood of new illumination upon the mysteries of the phenomenal world.

The doctrine of evolution comprises these points as regards the development of humanity:-

  1. The capacity for improvement.
  2. The existence of undeveloped potencies.
  3. Facility of correspondence with modified or improved environment.
  4. The operation of energy mainly in the direction of improvement.

The Mystics may not have been acquainted with our alleged descent from apes; they may only have realized dimly the significance in Nature of that law which regulates the survival of the fittest, though they did not need science to teach them that weakest go to the wall; but they were acquainted with the capacity for improvement in all substances and in all departments of Nature; they believed in the existence of undeveloped potencies in every kingdom of being. They studied the mysteries of correspondence and the great law of conditions; they investigated the operations of energy in the direction of improvement. But they did what we do not; their great end was to assist nature, to bring consciousness, reason, intelligence, to help in fulfilling the law; to begin work where Nature left off, or was arrested, to improve what was defective, to complete what was unfinished, to ameliorate the ill-conditioned, to refine the coarse, to remove the superfluous. “The work of Nature,” says Trevisan, “is assisted by alchemy.” They believed that a change might be effected in all substances, and they sought to work up to the archetypal idea which dominated in each department of nature. In other words, they endeavoured to realize the ideal, to produce perfection in the given substance. Thus, the Physical Mystics, or alchemists, elaborated the potencies of metals in order to obtain gold. And then in regard to man, the Spiritual Mystics sought to produce his archetype, to realize the ideal humanity; and we find in their writings and their processes a clear proof of their acquaintance with a law of spiritual evolution which we can discern to be in rigorous analogy with that law of the physical world. Modern science has concerned itself but little with the possible future of humanity as it is indicated by the law which it has discovered, but underlying the literature of Western Mysticism there it has consciousness of a grand future of both spiritual and physical transfiguration, perfection, beauty, and visible illumination – things outward being an index of things within – which is possible, perhaps inevitable for man, and this future can at any rate be achieved by the elect.

Whether contemplated from the merely scientific standpoint, or from that of the higher science of Mysticism, it may be affirmed that the object of physical evolution, working in the natural world, is to accomplish the transfiguration of the natural body of man, to develop what Freemasonry terms the Perfect Ashlar. The object of spiritual evolution is to accomplish the transfiguration of the interior man. The processes of Mysticism, in both evolutions and two transfigurations, both of which have man for their subject, and his perfection for the end in view. Therefore also Mysticism regards man from the standpoint of modern science, as a developing being, a phenomenal manifestation, having a hidden reality. In accordance with the doctrine of scientific evolution, and in accordance with mystical philosophy, it is the aim of this book to indicate and to foreshow a method for the development of the interior resources of physical, intellectual, and aspirational man, “by a natural process devoid of haste and violence.” It is a book of the life present and a book of the life to come; the second part is devoted exclusively to a science of the interior, and to a way of entrance into the world of true light, founded on the wisdom of the ages, and constituting a guide from that which seems into the supersensual repose of the real. It deals with the prospective existence of the regenerated race here, and that of the individual hereafter. Its aim is fixed upon that far light which is beyond all stars and suns; upon the truth supereminent transcension of that altitude of the fruition of being which surpasses all known summits, upon the repose of that energy which is greater than all material activity, because it has another impulse; it is a message and a mission to every mystic thinker; it is a solemn remembrance that our profession commits us here to the development of mystic action on the plane of the phenomenal, and must energize us for work amidst the homes and haunts of men. Ours is no illuminated idleness. If we are possessed of the Great Stone of the philosophers, it is not to hide it in a napkin, but to turn the world to gold. Let not therefore the cold severity of a calculating practical criticism condemn our wisdom as a dreamer’s lore, gorgeous, perhaps but still a light of dream; it is the gospel of a new work; it is the development of man the perfect. Ours is the prospective field of evolution field of evolution; our domain is the Ascent of Humanity. Man’s future in the physical order is a prospect which has been opened to us by science; the prospect has kindled the enthusiasm of a noble and ennobling aspiration; and that aspiration it is our work to exalt into religion. The last word of science is the initial message of the New Mysticism. Throughout the first division of this book, the method which will be suggested, as also the system which will one day incorporate that method, and the religion, or way of the life to come, which will, in effect, be that system in its evolved form, will for all practical purposes be confined to the elaboration of humanity here on earth. This division, and its method will, however, be but the gate of the sanctuary which will give entrance to the Holy of Holies of our most holy and chrism-consecrated aspiration, to be set forth in the second part and by the second method.