Occult Philosophy

As affirmed more than once already, Occult Philosophy in various countries and through different periods has remained substantially the same. At different times and places very different mythological efflorescences have been thrown off for the service of the populace; but, underlying each popular religion, the religious knowledge of the initiated minority has been identical. Of course, the modern Western conception of what is right in such matters will be outraged by the mere idea of a religion which is kept as the property of the few, while a “false religion,” as modern phraseology would put it, is served out to the common people. However, before this feeling is permitted to land us in too uncompromising disapproval of the ancient hiders of the truth, it may be well to determine how far it is due to any intelligent conviction that the common herd would be benefited by teaching, which must be in its nature too refined and subtle for popular comprehension, and how far the feeling referred to, may be due to an acquired habit of looking on religion as something which it is important to profess, irrespective of understanding it. No doubt, assuming that a man’s eternal welfare depends upon his declaration, irrespective of comprehension, of the right faith, among all the faiths he might have picked out from the lucky bag of birth and destiny – then it would be the sovereign duty of persons conscious of possessing such a faith to proclaim it from it from the house-tops. But, on the other hypothesis, that it cannot profit any man to mutter a formula of words without attaching sense to it, and that crude intelligences can only be approached by crude sketches of religious ideas, there is more to be advanced on behalf of the ancient policy of reserve than seems at first sight obvious. Certainly the relations of the populace and the initiates, look susceptible of modification in the European world of the present day. The populace, in the sense of the public at large, including the finest intellects of the age, are at least as well able as those of any special class to comprehend metaphysical ideas. These finer intellects dominate public thought, so that no great ideas can triumph among the nations of Europe without their aid, while their aid can only be secured in the open market of intellectual competition. Thus it ensures that the bare notion of an esoteric science superior to that offered in public to the scientific world, strikes the modern Western mind as an absurdity. With which very natural feeling it is only necessary at present here to fight, so far as to ask people not be illogical in its application; that is to say, not to assume that because it would never occur to a modern European coming into possession of a new truth to make a secret of it, and disclose it only to a fraternity under pledges of reserve, therefore such an idea could never have occurred to an Egyptian priest or an intellectual giant of the civilization which overspread India, according to some not unreasonable hypothesis, before Egypt began to be a seat of learning and art. The secret society system was as natural, indeed, to the ancient man of science, as the public system is in our own country and time. Nor is the difference one of time and fashion merely. It hinges on to the great difference that is to be discerned in the essence of the pursuits in which learned men engage now, as compared with those they were concerned with in former ages. We have belonged to the material progress epoch, and the watchword of material progress has always been publicity. The initiates of ancient psychology belonged to the spiritual age, and the watchword of subjective development has always been secrecy. Whether in both cases the watchword is dictated by necessities of the situation is a question on which discussion might be possible; but, at all events, these reflections are enough to show that it would be unwise to dogmatize too confidently on the character of the philosophy and the philosophers who could be content to hoard their wisdom and supply the crowd with a religion adapted rather to the understanding of its recipients than to the eternal verities.

It is impossible now to form a conjecture as to the date or time at which occult philosophy began to take the shape in which we find it now. But though it may be reasonably guessed that, the last two or three thousand years have not passed over the devoted initiates who have held and transmitted it during that time, without their having contributed something towards its development, the proficiency of initiates belonging to the earliest periods with which history deals, appears to have been already so far advanced, and so nearly as wonderful as the proficiency of initiates in the present day, that we must assign a very great antiquity to the earliest beginnings of occult knowledge on this earth. Indeed, the question cannot be raised without bringing us in contact with considerations that hint at absolutely starting conclusions in this respect.

But, apart from specific archaeological speculations, it has been pointed out that “a philosophy so profound, a moral code so ennobling, and practical results so conclusive and so uniformly demonstrable, are not the growth of a generation, or even a single epoch. Fact must have been piled upon fact, deduction upon deduction, science have begotten science, and myriads of the laws of Nature, before this ancient identity doctrine had taken concrete shape. The proofs are found in the prevalence of a system of initiation; in the secret sacerdotal castes, who had the guardianship of mystical words of power, and a public display of a phenomenal control over natural forces indicating association with preter-human beings. Every approach to the mysteries of all these nations, was guarded with the same jealous care, and in all the penalty of death was inflicted upon all initiates of any degree who divulged the secrets entrusted to them.” The book just quoted shows this to have been the case with the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries among the Chaldean Magi and the Egyptian Hierophants. The Hindu book of Brahminical ceremonies the “Agrushada Parikshai,” contains the same law, which appears also to have been adopted by the Essences, the Gnostics, and the Theurgic Neo-Platonists. Freemasonry has copied the old formula, though its raison d’etre has expired here with the expiration from among Freemasons of the occult philosophy on which their forms and ceremonies of the occult philosophy on which their forms and ceremonies are shaped to a larger extent than they generally conceive. Evidences of the identity spoken of may be traced in the vows, formulas, rites, and doctrines of various ancient faiths, and it is affirmed by those whom I believe qualified to speak with authority as to the fact, “that not only is their memory still preserved in India, but also that Secret Association is still alive, and as active as ever.”

As I have now, in support of the views just expressed, to make some quotations from Madame Blavatsky’s great book, “Isis Unveiled,” it is necessary to give certain explanations concerning the genesis of that work, for which the reader who has followed my narrative of occult experiences through the preceding pages, will be better prepared than h would have been previously. I have shown how, throughout the most ordinary incidents of her daily life, Madame Blavatsky is constantly in communication, by means of the system of psychological telegraphy that the initiates employ, with her superior “Brothers” in occultism. This state of the facts once realized, it will be easy to understand that in compiling such a work as “Isis,” which embodies a complete explanation of all that can be told about occultism to the outer world, she would not be left exclusively to her own resources. The truth which Madame Blavatsky would be the last person in the world to wish disguised, is that the assistance she derived from the Brothers, by occult agency, throughout the composition of her book, was so abundant and continuous that she is not so much the author of “Isis” as one of a group of collaborateurs, by whom it was actually produced. I am given understand that she set to work on “Isis” without knowing anything about the magnitude of the task she was undertaking. She began writing to dictation – the passages thus written not now standing first in the completed volumes – in compliance with the desire of her occult friends, and without knowing whether the composition on which she was engaged would turn out an article for a newspaper, or an essay for a magazine, or a work of larger dimensions. But on and on it grew. Before going very far, of course, she came to understand what she was about; and fairly launched on her task, she in turn contributed a good deal from her own natural brain. But the Brothers appear always to have been at work with her, not merely dictating through her brain as at first, but sometimes employing those methods of “precipitation” of what I have myself been favored with some examples, and by means of which quantities of actual manuscript in other handwritings than her own were produced while she slept. In the morning she would sometimes get up and find as much as thirty slips added to the manuscript she had left on her table over-night. The book “Isis” is in fact as great “phenomenon” – apart from the nature of its contents as – any of those I have described.

The faults of the book, obvious to the general reader, will be thus explained, as well as the extraordinary value it possesses for those may be anxious to explore as far as possible the mysteries of occultism. The deific powers which the Brothers enjoy cannot protect a literary work which is the joint production of several – even among their – minds, from the confusion of arrangement to which such a mode of composition inevitable gives rise. And besides confusion of arrangement, the book exhibits a heterogeneous variety of different styles, which mars it dignity as a literary work, and must prove both irritating and puzzling the key to this irregularity of form, it is an advantage rather than otherwise. It will enable an acute reader to account for some minor incongruities of statement occurring in different parts of the book. Beyond, this it will enable him to recognize the voice, as it were, of the different authors as they take up the parable in turn.

The book was written – as regards its physical production – at New York, where Madame Blavatsky was utterly un-provided with books of reference. It seems, however, with references to books of all sorts, including many of a very unusual character, and with quotations the exactitude of which may easily be verified at the great European libraries, as foot-notes supply the number of the pages from which the passages taken are quoted.

I may now go on to collect some passages from “Isis,” the object of which is to show the unity of the esoteric philosophy underlying various ancient religious, and the peculiar value which attaches for students of that philosophy, to pure Buddhism, a system which, of all that those presented to the world, appears to supply us with occult philosophy in its least adulterated shape. Of course, the reader will guard himself from running away with the idea that Buddhism, as explained by writers who are not occultists, can be accepted as an embodiment of their views. For example, one of the leading ideas of Buddhism, as interpreted by Western scholars, is that “Nirvana” amounts to annihilation. It is possible that Western scholars may be right in saying that the explanation of ‘Nirvana” supplied by exoteric Buddhism leads to this conclusion; but that, at all events, is not the occult doctrine.

“Nirvana,” it is stated in “Isis,” “means the certitude of personal immortality in spirit not in soul, which, as a finite emanation, must certainly disintegrate its practices, a compound of human sensations, passions, and yearning for some objective kind of existence, before the immortal spirit of the Ego is quite freed, and henceforth secure against transmigration in any form. And how can man reach that state so long as the ‘Upadana,’ that state of longing for life, more life, does not disappear from the sentient being, from the Ahancara clothed, however, in a sublimated body? It is the ‘Upadana’ or the intense desire that produces will, and it is will which develops force, and the latter generates matter, or an object having form. Thus the disembodied Ego, through this sole undying desire in him, unconsciously furnishes the conditions of his successive self-procreations in various forms, which depend on his mental state, and ‘Karma’ the good or bad deeds of his preceding existence, commonly called ‘merit’ and ‘demerit.’ ” There is a world of suggestive metaphysical thought in this passage, which will serve at once to justify the view propounded just now as regards the reach of Buddhistic philosophy as viewed from the occult standpoint.

The misunderstanding about the meaning of “Nirvana” is so general in the West, that it will be well to consider the following elucidation also: –

“Annihilation means with the Buddhistical philosophy only a different of matter, in whatever form or semblance of form it may be; for everything that bears a shape was created, and thus must sooner or later perish – i.e., change that shape; therefore, as something temporary, though seeming to be permanent, it is but an illusion, ‘Maya’; for as eternity has neither beginning nor end, the more or less prolonged duration of some particular duration of some particular from passes, as it were, like an instantaneous flash of lightning. Before we have the time to realize that we have seen it, it has gone and passed away for ever; hence our astral bodies, pure ether, are but illusions of matter so long as they retain their terrestrial outline. The latter changes, says the Buddhist, according to the merits or demerits of the person during his lifetime, and this is metempsychosis. When the spiritual entity breaks loose for ever from every particle of matter, then only it enters upon the external and unchangeable ‘Nirvana.’ He exists in spirit, in nothing; as a form, a shape, a semblance, he is completely annihilated, and thus will die no more; for spirit alone is no ‘Maya,’ but the only reality in an illusionary universe of ever-passing forms. . . . . To accuse Buddhistical philosophy of rejecting a Supreme Being – God, and the soul’s immortality – of Atheism, in short – on the ground that ‘Nirvana’ means annihilation, and ‘Svabhavat’ is not a person, but nothing, is simply absurd. The En (or Aym) of the Jewish Ensoph also means nihil, or nothing, that which is not (quoad nos), but no one has ever ventured to twit the Jews with atheism. In both cases the real meaning of the term nothing carries with it the idea that God is not a thing, not a concrete or visible being to which a name expressive of any object known to us on earth may be applied with propriety.”

Again: “ ‘Nirvana’ is the world of cause in which all deceptive effects or illusions of our senses disappear. ‘Nirvana’ is the highest attainable sphere.”

The secret doctrines of the Magi, of the pre-Vedic Buddhist, of the hierophants of the Egyptian Thoth or Hermes, were – we find it laid down in “Isis” – identical from the beginning of the adepts of whatever age or nationality, including the Chaldean Kabalists and the Jewish Nazars. “When we use the word Buddhists, we do not mean to imply by it either the exoteric Buddhism instituted by the followers of Gautama Buddha, or the modern Buddhistic religion, but the secret philosophy of Sakyamuni, which, in its essence, is certainly identical with the ancient wisdom-religion of the sanctuary – the pre-Vedic Brahmanism. The schism of Zoroaster, as it called, is a direct proof of it: for it was no schism, strictly speaking, but merely a partially public exposition of strictly monotheistic religious truths hitherto taught only in the sanctuaries, and that he had learned from the Brahmans. Zoroaster, the primeval institutor of sun-worship, cannot be called the founder of the dualistic system, neither was he the first to teach the unity of God, for he taught but what he had learned himself from the Brahmans. And that Zarathrusta, and his followers the Zoroastrians, had been settled in India before they immigrated into Persia, is also proved by Max Muller. ‘That the Zoroastrians and their ancestors started from India,’ he says, ‘during the Vaidic period, can be proved as distinctly as that the inhabitants of Massilia started from Greece. . . . . Many of the gods of the Zoroastrians come out . . . . as more mere reflections and deflections of the gods of the Veda.’

“If, now, we can prove, and we can do so on the evidence of the ‘Kabala,’ and the oldest traditions of the wisdom-religion, the philosophy of the old sanctuaries, that all these gods, whether of the Zoroastrians or of the Veda, are but so many personated occult powers of Nature, the faithful servants of the adepts of secret wisdom – magic – we are on secure ground.

“Thus, whether we say that Kabalism and Gnosticism proceeded from Masdeanism or Zoroastrianism, it is all the same, unless we meant the exoteric worship, which we do not. Likewise, and in this sense we may echo King, the author of the ‘Gnostics,’ and several other archeologists, and maintain that both the former proceeded from Buddhism at once the simplest and most satisfying of philosophies, and which resulted in one of the purest religions in the world. But whether among the Essenes or the Neo-Platonists or again among the innumerable struggling sects born but to die, the same doctrines, identical in substance and spirit, if not always in form, are encountered. By Buddhism, therefore, we mean that religion signifying literally the doctrine of wisdom, and which by many ages antedates the metaphysical philosophy of Siddhartha Sakyamuni.”

Modern Christianity has, of course, diverged widely from its own original philosophy, but the identity of this with the original philosophy of all religions is maintained in “Isis” in the course of an interesting argument.

“Luke, who was a physician, is designated in the Syriac texts as Asaia, the Essaian or Essene. Josephus and Philo Judæus have sufficiently described this sect to leave no doubt in our mind that the Nazarene Reformer, after having received his education in their dwellings in the desert, and being duly initiated in the mysteries, preferred the free and independent life of a wandering Nazaria, and so separated, or inazarenized, himself from them, thus becoming a travelling Therapeute, or Nazaria, a healer . . . . In his discourses and sermons Jesus always spoke in parables, and used metaphors with his audience. This habit was again used of the Essenians and the Nazarenes; the Galileans, who dwelt in cities and villages, were some of his disciples, being Galileans as well as himself, felt even surprised to find him using with the people such a form of expression. ‘Why speakest thou unto them in parables?’ they often inquired. ‘Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven; but to them it is not given,’ was the reply, which was that of an initiate. ‘Therefore, I speak unto them in parables, because they seeing, see not, and hearing, they hear not, neither do they understand.’ Moreover, we find Jesus expressing his thoughts . . . . in sentences which are purely Pythagorean, when, during the Sermon on the Mount, he says, ‘Give ye not that which is sacred to the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine; for the swine will tread them under their feet, and the dogs will turn and rend you.’ Professor A.Wilder, the editor of Taylor’s ‘Eleusinian Mysteries,’ observes ‘a like disposition on the part of Jesus and Paul to classify their doctrines as esoteric and exoteric – the mysteries of the Kingdom of God for the apostles, and parables for the multitude. ‘We speak wisdom,’ says Paul, ‘among them that are perfect,’ or ‘initiated’. In the Eleusinian and other mysteries the participants were always divided into two classes, the neophytes and the perfect . . . . . The narrative of the Apostle Paul, in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, has struck several scholars well versed in the descriptions of the mystical rites of the initiation given by some classics as alluding most undoubtedly to the final Epopteia: ‘I know a certain man – whether in body or outside of body I know not; God knoweth – who was rapt into Paradise, and heard things ineffable which it is not lawful for a man to repeat.’ These words have rarely, so far as we know, been regarded by commentators as an allusion to the beatific visions of an initiated seer; but the phraseology is unequivocal. These things which it is not lawful to repeat, are hinted at in the same words, and the reason assigned for it is the same as that which we find repeatedly expressed by Plato, Proclus, Jamblichus, Herodotus, and other classics. ‘We speak wisdom only among them that are perfect,’ says Paul; the plain and undeniable translation of the sentence being: ‘We speak of the profounder or final esoteric doctrines of the mysteries (which are denominated wisdom), only among them who are initiated.’ So in relation to the man who was rapt into the Paradise – and who was evidently Paul himself – the Christian word Paradise having replaced that of Elysium.

The final purpose of occult philosophy is to show what Man was, is, and will be. “That which survives as an individuality,” says “Isis,” “after the death of the body is the actual soul, which Plato, in the Timæus and Gorgias, calls the mortal soul; for, according to the Hermetic doctrine, it throws off the more material particle at every progressive change into a higher sphere. . . . The astral spirit is a faithful duplicate of the body in a physical and spiritual sense. The Divine, the highest immortal spirit, can be neither punished nor rewarded. To maintain such a doctrine would be at the same time absurd and blasphemous; for it is not merely a flame lit at the central and inextinguishable fountain of light, but actually a portion of it and of identical essence. It assures immortality to the individual astral being in proportion to the willingness of the latter to receive it. So long as the double man – i.e., the man of flesh and spirit – keeps within the limits of the law of spiritual continuity; so long as the divine spark lingers in him, however faintly, he is on the road to an immortality in the future state. But those out who resign themselves to a materialistic existence, shutting out the divine radiance shed by their spirit, at the beginning of their earthly pilgrimage, and stifling the warning voice of that faithful sentry the conscience, which serves as a focus for the light in the soul – such beings as those, having left behind conscience and spirit, and crossed the boundaries of matter, will, of necessity, have to follow its laws.”

Again: “The secret doctrine teaches that man, if he wins immortality, will remain for ever the trinity that he is in life, and will continue so throughout all the spheres. The astral body, which in this life is covered by a gross physical envelope, becomes, when relieved of that covering by the process of corporeal death, in its turn the shell of another and more ethereal body. This begins developing from the moment of death, and becomes perfected when the astral body of the earthly form finally separates from it.”

The passages quoted, when read by the light of the explanations I have given, will enable the reader, if so inclined, to take up “Isis” in a comprehending spirit, and find his way to the rich veins of precious metal which are buried in its pages. But neither in “Isis” nor in any other book on occult philosophy which has been or seems likely to be written yet awhile, must any one hope to obtain a cut-and-dried, straightforward, and perfectly clear account of the mysteries of birth, death, and the future. At first, in pursuing studies of this kind, one is irritated at the difficulty of getting at what the occultists really believe as regards the future state, the nature of the life to come, and its general mise en scene. The well-known religious have very precise views on these subjects, further rendered practical by the assurances some of them give that qualified persons, commissioned by churches to perform the duty, can shunt departing souls on to the right or the wrong lines, in accordance with consideration received. Theories of that kind have at any rate the merit of simplicity and intelligibility, but they are not, perhaps, satisfactory to the mind as regards their details. After a very little investigation of the matter, the student of occult philosophy will realize that on that path of knowledge he will certainly meet with no conceptions likely to outrage his purest idealization of God and the life to come. He will soon feel that the scheme of ideas he is exploring is lofty and dignified to the utmost limits that the human understanding can reach. But it will remain vague, and he will seek for explicit statements on this or that point, until by degrees he realizes that the absolute truth about the origin and destinies of the human soul may be too subtle and intricate to be possibly expressible in straightforward language. Perfectly clear ideas may be attainable for the purified minds of advanced scholars in occultism, who, by entire devotion of every faculty to the pursuit and prolonged assimilation of such ideas, come at length to understand them with the aid of peculiar intellectual powers specially expanded for the purpose; but it does not at all follow that with the best will in the world such persons must necessarily be able to draw up an occult creed which should bring the whole theory of the universe into the compass of a dozen lines. The study of occultism, even by men of the world, engaged in ordinary pursuits as well, may readily enlarge and purify the understanding, to the extent of arming the mind, so to speak, with tests that will detect absurdity in any erroneous religious hypothesis; but the absolute structure of occult belief is something which, from its nature, can only be built up slowly in the mind of each intellectual architect. And I imagine that a very vivid perception of this part explains the reluctance of occultists even to attempt the straightforward explanation of their doctrines. They know that really vital plants of knowledge, so to speak, must grow up from the germ in each man’s mind, and cannot be transplanted into the strange soil of an untrained understanding in a complete state of mature growth. They are ready enough to supply seed, but every man must grow his own tree of knowledge for himself. As the adept himself is not made, but becomes so, – in a minor degree, the person who merely aspires to comprehend the adept and his views of things must develop such comprehension for himself, by thinking out rudimentary ideas to their legitimate conclusions.

These considerations fit in with, and do something towards elucidating, the reserve of occultism, and they further suggest an explanation of what will at once seem puzzling to a reader of “Isis,” who takes it up by the light of the present narrative. If great parts of the book, as I have asserted, are really the work of actual adepts, who know of their own knowledge what is the actual truth about many of the mysteries discussed, why have they not said plainly what they meant, instead of beating about the bush, and suggesting arguments derived from this or that ordinary source, from literary or historical evidence, from abstract speculation concerning the harmonies of Nature? The answer seems to be, firstly, that they could not well write, “We know that so and so is the fact,” without being asked, “How do you know?” – and it is manifestly impossible that they could reply to this question without going into details that it would be “unlawful,” as a Biblical writer would say, to disclose, or without proposing to guarantee their testimony by manifestations of powers which it would be obviously impracticable for them to keep always at hand for the satisfaction of each reader of the book in turn. Secondly, I imagine that, in accordance with the invariable principle of trying less to teach than to encourage spontaneous development, they have aimed in “Isis,” rather at producing an effect on the reader’s mind, than at shooting in a store of previously accumulated facts. They have shown that Theosophy, or Occult Philosophy, is no new candidate for the world’s attention, but is really a restatement of principles which have been recognized from the very infancy of mankind. The historic sequence which establishes this view is distinctly traced through the successive evolutions of the philosophical schools, in a manner which it is impossible for me to attempt in a work of these dimensions, and the theory laid down is illustrated with abundant accounts of the experimental demonstrations of occult power ascribed to various thaumaturgists. The author of ‘Isis” have expressly refrained from saying more than might conceivably be said by a writer who was not an adept, supposing him to have access to all the literature of the subject and an enlightened comprehension of its meaning.

But once realize the real position of the authors or inspires of ‘Isis,” and the value of any argument on which you find them launched is enhanced enormously above the level of the relatively commonplace considerations advanced on its behalf. The adepts may not choose to bring forward other than exoteric evidence in favour of any particular thesis they wish to support, but if they wish to support it, that fact alone will be of enormous significance for any reader who, in indirect ways, has reached a comprehension of the authority with which they are entitled to speak.