Occultism and Its Adepts

The powers with which occultism invests its adepts include, to begin with, a control over various forces in Nature which ordinary science knows nothing about, and by means of which and adept can hold conversation with any other adept, whatever intervals on the earth’s surface may lie between them. This psychological telegraphy is wholly independent of all mechanical conditions or appliances whatever. And the clairvoyant faculties of the adept are so perfect and complete that they amount to a species of omniscience as regards mundane affairs. The body is the prison of the soul for ordinary mortals. We can see cognizance only of what is brought within its bars. But the adept has found the key of his prison for him – merely a dwelling. In other words, the adept can project his soul out of his body to any place the pleases with the rapidity of thought.

The whole edifice of occultism from basement to roof is so utterly strange to ordinary conceptions that it is difficult to know how to begin an explanation of its contents. How could one describe a calculating machine to an audience unfamiliar with the simplest mechanical contrivances and knowing nothing of arithmetic? And the highly cultured classes of modern Europe as regards the achievements of occultism are, in spite of the perfection of their literary scholarship and the exquisite precision of their attainments in their own departments of science, in the position as regards occultism of knowing nothing about the A B C of the subject, nothing about the capacities of the soul at all as distinguished from the capacities of body and soul combined. The occultists for ages have devoted themselves to that study chiefly; they have accomplished results in connection with it which are absolutely bewildering in their magnificence; but suddenly introduced to some of these, the prosaic intelligence is staggered and feels in a world of miracle and enchantment. On charts that show the stream of history, the nations all intermingle more or less, except the Chinese, and that is shown coming down in a single river without affluent and without branches from out of the clouds of time. Suppose that civilized Europe had not come into contact with the Chinese till lately, and suppose that the Chinese, very much brighter in intelligence than they really are, had developed some branch of physical science to the point it actually has reached with us; suppose that particular branch had been entirely neglected amongst us, the surprise we should feel at taking up the Chinese discoveries in their refined development without having gradually grown familiar with their small beginnings would be very great. Now this is exactly the situation as regards occult science. The occultists have been a race apart from an earlier period than we can fathom – not a separate race physically, not a uniform race physically at all, nor a nation in any sense of the world, but a continuous association of men of the highest intelligence linked together by a bond stronger than any other tie of which mankind has experience, and carrying on with a perfect continuity of purpose the studies and traditions and mysteries of self-development handed down to them by their predecessors. All this time the stream of civilization, on the foremost waves of which the culture of modern Europe is floating, has been wholly and absolutely neglectful of the one study with which the occultists have been solely engaged. What wonder that the two lines of civilization have diverged so far apart that their forms are now entirely unlike each other. It remains to be seen whether this attempt to reintroduce the long-estranged cousins will be tolerated or treated as an impudent attempt to pass off an impostor as a relation.

I have said that the occultists can project his soul from his body. As an incidental discovery, it will be observed, he has thus ascertained beyond all shadow of doubt that he really has got a soul. A comparison of myths has sometimes been called the science of religion. If there can really be a science of religion it must necessarily be occultism. On the surface, perhaps, it may not be obvious that religious truth must necessarily open out more completely to the soul as temporarily loosened from the body, than to the soul as taking cognizance of ideas through the medium of the physical senses. But to ascend into a realm of immateriality, where cognition becomes a process of pure perception, while the intellectual faculties are in full play and centered in the immaterial man, must manifestly be conducive to an enlarged comprehension of religious truth.

I have just spoken of the “immaterial man” as distinguished from the body of the physical senses; but, so complex is the reader to tolerate the phrase than I must reject it for the future as inaccurate. Occult philosophy has ascertained that the inner ethereal self, which is the man as distinguished from his body, is itself the envelope of something more ethereal still – is itself, in a suitable sense of the term, material.

The majority of civilized people believe that man has a soul which will somehow survive the dissolution of the body; but they have to confess that they do not know very much about it. A good many of the most highly civilized, have grave doubts on the subject, and some think that researches in physics which have suggested the notion that even though may be a mode of motion, tend to establish the strong probability of the hypothesis that when the life of the body is destroyed nothing else survives. Occult knows the state of the facts.

St. Paul, who was an occultist, speaks of man as constituted of body, soul, and spirit. The distinction is one that hardly fits in with the theory, that when a man dies his soul is translated to heaven or hell for ever. What, then, becomes of the spirit, and what is the spirit as different from the soul, on the ordinary hypothesis? Orthodox thinkers work out each some theory on the subject for himself. Either that the soul is the seat of the emotions and the spirit of the intellectual faculties, or vice versa. No one can put such conjectures on a solid foundation, not even one on the basis of an alleged revelation. But St. Paul was not indulging in vague fancies when he made use of the expression as the soul of the soul. With that for the moment we need not be concerned. The important point which occultism brings out is that the soul of man, while something than the body, is itself a material reality. Not material as chemistry understands matter, but as physical science en bloc might understand it if the tentaculæ of each branch of science were to grow more sensitive and were to work more in harmony. It is no denial of the materiality of any hypothetical substance to say that one cannot determine its atomic weight and its affinities. The ether that transmits light is held to be material by anyone who holds it to exist at all, but there is a gulf of difference between it and the thinnest of the gases. You do not always approach a scientific truth from the same direction. You may perceive some directly; you have to infer others indirectly; but these latter may not on that account be the less certain. The materiality of ether is inferable from the behavior of light: the materiality of the soul may be inferable from its subjection to forces. A mesmeric influence is a force emanating from certain physical characteristics of the mesmerist. It impinges on the soul of the subject at a distance, and produces an effect perceptible to him, demonstrable to others. Of course this is an illustration and no proof. I must set forth as well as I am able – and that can but be very imperfectly – the discoveries of occultism without at first attempting the establishment by proof of each part of these discoveries. Further on, I shall be able to prove some parts at any rate, and others will then be recognized as indirectly established, too.

The soul is material, and inheres in the ordinarily more grossly material body; it is this condition of things which enables the occultists to speak positively on the subject, for he can satisfy himself at one coup that there is such a thing as a soul, and that it is material in its nature, by dissociating it from the body under some conditions, and restoring it again. The occultists can even do this sometimes with other souls; his primary achievement, however, is to do so with his own. When I say that the occultists know he has a soul I refer to this power. He knows it just as another man knows he has a great coat. He can put it from him, and render it manifest as something separate from himself. But remember that to him, when the separation is affected, he is the soul and the thing put off his body. And this is to attain nothing less than absolute certainty about the great problem of survival after death. The adept does not rely on faith, or on metaphysical speculation, in regard to the possibilities of his existence apart from the body. He experiences such an existence whenever he pleases, and although it may be allowed that the mere art of emancipating himself temporarily from the body would not necessarily inform him concerning his ultimate destinies after that emancipation should be final at death, it gives him, at all events, exact knowledge concerning the conditions under which he will start on his journey in the next world. While his body lives, his soul is, so to speak, a captive balloon (although with a very long, elastic, and imponderable cable). Captive will float when at last the machinery below breaks up, and he finds himself altogether adrift; but it is something to be an aeronaut already, before the journey begins, and to know certainly, as I said before, that there are such things as balloons, for certain emergencies, to sail in.

There would be infinite grandeur in the faculty I have described alone, supposing that were the end of adeptship: but instead of being the end, it is more like the beginning. The seemingly magic feats which the adepts in occultism have the power to perform, are accomplished, I am given to understand, by means of familiarity with a force in Nature which is referred to in Sanscrit writings as akas. Western science has done much in discovering some of the properties and powers of electricity. Occult science, ages before, had done much more in discovering the properties and powers of akas. In “The Coming Race”, The late Lord Lytton, whose connection with occultism appears to have been closer than the world generally has yet realized, gives a fantastic and imaginative account of the wonders achieved in the world generally has yet realized gives a fantastic and imaginative account of the wonders achieved in the world to which his hero penetrates, by means of Vril. In writing of Vril, Lord Lytton has clearly been poetising akas. “The Coming Race” is described as a people entirely unlike adepts in many essential particulars – as a complete nation, for one thing, of men and women all equally handling the powers, even from childhood, which – or some of which among others not described – the adepts have conquered. This is mere fairytale, founded on the achievements of occultism. But no one who has made a study of the latter can fail to see, can fail to recognize with a conviction amounting to certainty, that the author of “The Coming Race” must have been familiar with the leading ideas of occultism, perhaps with a great deal more. The same evidence is afforded by Lord Lytton’s other novels of mystery, “Zanoni,” and “The Strange Story”. In “Zanoni” the sublime personage in the background, Mejnour, is intended plainly to be a great adept of Eastern occultism, exactly like of those of whom I have to speak. It is difficult to know why in this case, where Lord Lytton has manifestly intended to adhere much more closely to the real facts of occultism than in “The Coming Race”, he should have presented Mejnour as a solitary survivor of the Rosicrucian fraternity. The guardians of occult science are content to be a small body as compared with the tremendous importance of the knowledge which they save from perishing, but they have never allowed their numbers to diminish to the extent of being in any danger of ceasing to exist as an organized body on earth. It is difficult, again, to understand why Lord Lytton, having learned so much as he certainly did, should have been content to use up his information merely as an ornament of fiction, instead of giving it to the world in a form which should claim more serious consideration. At all events, prosaic people will argue to that effect; but it is not impossible that Lord Lytton himself had become, through long study of the subject, so permeated with the love of mystery which inheres in the occult mind apparently, that he preferred to throw out his information in a veiled and mystic shape, so that it would be intangible to readers in sympathy with himself, and would blow unnoticed past the common place understanding without awakening the angry rejection which these pages, for example, if they are destined to attract any notice at all, will assuredly encounter at the hands of bigots in science, religion, and the great philosophy of the common-place.

Akas, be it, then, understood is a force for which we have no experience to guide us to a conception of its nature. One can only grasp at the idea required by conceiving that it is as much more potent, subtle, and extraordinary an agent that electricity, as a electricity is superior in subtlety and variegated efficiency to steam. It is through his acquaintance with the properties of this force, that the adept can accomplish the physical phenomena which I shall presently be able to show are within his reach, besides others of far greater magnificence.

II. Who are the adepts who handle the tremendous forces of which I speak? There is reason to believe that such adepts have existed in all historic ages, and there are such adepts in India at this moment, or in adjacent countries. The identity of the knowledge they have inherited, with that of ancient initiates in occultism, follows irresistibly from an examination of the views they hold and the faculties they exercise. The conclusion has to be worked out from a mass of literary evidence, and it will be enough to state it for the moment, pointing out the proper channels of research in the matter afterwards. For the present, let us consider the position of the adepts as they now exist.

They constitute a Brotherhood, or Secret Association, which ramifies all over the East, but the principal seat of which for the present I gather to be in Tibet. But India has not yet been deserted by the adepts, and from that country they still receive many recruits. For the great fraternity is at once the least and the most exclusive organization in the world, and fresh recruits from any race or country are welcome, provided they possess the needed qualifications. The door, as I have been told by one who knocks, but the road that has to be travelled before the door is reached is one which none but very determined travelers can describe its perils in any but very general terms, but it is not necessary to have learned any secrets of initiation to understand the character of the training through which a neophyte must pass before he attains the dignity of a proficient in occultism. The adept is not made: he becomes, as I have been constantly assured, and the process of becoming is mainly in his own hands.

Never, I believe, in less than seven years from the time at which a candidate for initiation is accepted as a probationer, is he ever admitted to the very first of the ordeals, whatever they may be, which bar the way to the earliest degrees of occultism, and there is no security for him that seven years may not be extended ad labium. He has no security that he will ever be admitted to any initiation whatever. Nor is this appalling uncertainty, which would alone deter most Europeans, however keep upon the subject intellectually, from attempting to advance, themselves, into the domain of occultism, maintained from the mere caprice of a despotic society, coquetting, so to speak, with the eagerness of its wooers. The trials through which the neophyte has to pass are no fantastic mockeries, nor mimicries of awful peril. Nor, do I take it, are they artificial barriers set up by the masters of occultism, to try the nerve of their pupils, as a riding-master might put up fences in his school. It is inherent in the nature of the science that has to be explored, that its revelations shall stagger the reason and try the most resolute courage. It is in his own interest that the candidate’s character and fixity of purpose, and perhaps his physical and mental attributes, are tested and watched with infinite care and patience in the first instance, before he is allowed to take the final plunge into the sea of strange experience through which he must swim with the strength of his own right arm, or perish.

As to what may be the nature of the trials that await him during the period of his development, it will be obvious that I can have no accurate knowledge, and conjectures based on fragmentary revelations picked up here and there are not worth recording, but as for the nature of the life led by the mere candidate for admission as a neophyte it will be equally be plain that no secret is involved. The ultimate development of the adept requires amongst other things a life of absolute physical purity, and the candidate must, from the beginning give practical evidence of his willingness to adopt this. He must, that is to say, for all the years of his probation, be perfectly chaste, perfectly abstemious, and indifferent to physical luxury of every sort. This regimen does not involve any fantastic discipline or obtrusive asceticism, nor withdrawal from the world. There would be nothing to prevent a gentleman in London society from being in full training for occult candidature without anybody about him being the wiser. For true occultism, the sublime attachment of the real adept, is not attained through the loathsome asceticism of the ordinary Indian faker, the yogi of the woods and wilds, whose dirt accumulates with his sanctity – of the fanatic who fastens iron hooks into his flesh, or holds up an arm until it is withered. An imperfect knowledge of some of the external facts of Indian occultism, will often lead to a misunderstanding on this point. Yod vidya is the Indian name for occult science, and it is easy to learn a good deal more than is worth learning about the practices of some misguided enthusiasts who cultivate some of its inferior branches by means of mere physical exercises. Properly speaking, this physical development is called Hatti yog, while the loftier sort, which is approached by the discipline of the mind, and which leads to the high altitudes of occultism, is called Ragi yog. No person whom a real occultist would ever think of as an adept, has acquired his powers by means of the laborious and puerile exercises of the Hatti yog. I do not mean to say that this inferior exercises are altogether futile. They do invest the person who pursues them with some abnormal faculties and powers. Many treatises have been written to describe them, and many people who have lived in India will be able to relate curious experiences they have had with proficient in this extraordinary craft. I do not wish to fill these pages with tales of wonder that I have had no means of sitting, or it would be easy to collect examples; but the point to insist on here is that no story any one can have heard or read which seems to put an ignoble, or petty, or low-minded aspect on Indian yogeeism can have any application to the ethereal yogeeism which is called Ragi yog, and which leads to the awful heights of true adeptship.