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vol. 1, p. 198
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 1 (1874-1876)


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Art Magic

by Henry S. Olcott

Whatever differences of opinion may exist as to the views of the author of this work, all will concede that it is interesting in a high degree. With the exception of certain details of ceremonial magic, extracted from Peter d’Albano, the language is fluent and the ideas picturesquely set forth. It is a book calculated to disappoint that large number of its sub scribers who fancied it would give them the key to the secrets of the Universe—that their five-dollar bills would serve as passports to the innermost crypts of the temple of esoteric wisdom. To Spiritualists, as a class, it must be exasperating; for while it shakes one’s faith in the purity and infallibility of mediumistic controls, it prescribes conditions for the acquisition of magical power so severe as to oar all but the very few from attempting to comply with them. To these few. “Art Magic’’ will be moat welcome, and by such appreciated long after the first enjoyment of the rhythmic law of its periods and the nobleness of its sentiments has passed.

The student of Occultism must be well satisfied that Mrs. Britten’s labor was pursued to the end, despite so many obstacles. He cannot fail to so admire this exhibition of moral courage by one of her sex, in bringing out a volume upon a subject long since taboo in the circles of science and society, as to overlook its little partialities towards mediumship, and see only its very conspicuous merits. The latter are beyond cavil. Few writers have handled the subject of primitive re-ligion with more ardor or perspicuity. In the sketch of the rise and progress of solar, sex and serpent worship, a great subject is brought within the easy comprehension of even the general reader. Portions of the work present in a striking manner the style of Bulwer, and one often finds himself recalling the language in which that most poetical of modern prose writers weaves mystical fact into the web of romance.

Mrs. Britten tells us in the ‘’Editor's Preface’’ that the volume was produced under the double disadvantage of a severe pressure of other duties upon her own time, and “haste enjoined by the author,” It is a pity that this could not have been avoided, for in such case, a still greater credit would doubtless have been reflected upon both author and editor, in the replacing of all matter not original, for instance, the quotations from Peter d'Albano with their own discussions and charming elucidations of the subject, such as are contained in the early chapters.

Art Magic will confer two conspicuous benefits upon such of its readers as were previously unfamiliar with the subject: (I) It will suggest to them the tremendous power of the human will, in the instances quoted of magical phenomena; and (2) It will warn them that there are other invisible beings than disembodied human spirits with whom we may have relations. The book certainly does affirm what all other authorities deny, viz.: that “Mediumistic Endowments are far more available to procure communion with and control of spirits, than any arts, &c.” But it also teaches the necessity of personal chastity and moral discipline; so that those who adopt the above theory have at least the best of advice as to how they may attract high spirits about them.

Mediumship, as appears from every spiritualistic author with whom I am acquainted, and every injunction ever received in a circle, requires total passivity. Without this we are taught there can be no receptivity of spirit influence. In fact, the author of Art Magic himself gives a very satisfactory definition (see pp. 159-160) of the difference between the medium and the magician. “The medium,” says he, “is one through whose astral spirit other spirits can manifest, making their presence known by various kinds of phenomena. Whatever these consist in, the medium is only a passive agent in their hands. He can neither command their presence, nor will their absence: can never compel the performance of any special act nor direct its nature. The magician on the contrary. can summon and dismiss spirits at will; can perform many feats of occult power, through his own spirit; can compel the presence and assistance of spirits of lower grades of being than himself, and effect transformations in the realm of nature upon animals and inanimate bodies. He can control his fellow-men physically and mentally by will, irrespective of distance, and even cause change in the destinies of individuals and societies. These powers seem in rehearsal fabulous, nevertheless they have been achieved, and we know that they are still attainable.

How the exercise of such an active deific will power is compatible with the passive and helpless condition of mediumship painted to us by our eloquent author, I cannot understand. It conflicts with all my reading and experience. I have often seen the magical power practically exemplified in the production of a wide range of phenomena, from raps on a table to evocations of elementaries, and the adept was always most active and dominant, instead of passive and expectant.

I know one of the most splendid mediums living—a man pure, wise and universally respected—who, nevertheless, is beset by elemental spirits and returning human elementaries, until life is a burden, and his only relief is found in close mental application. And this is a man far above the common average of men, and one whose chief desire is to become an adept. I know another who has not half his learning, his chaste past, or his spiritual experience, who, in an equal time, has made greater progress towards the common object in view. The difference between the two men is that the former, notwithstanding the higher powers which protect him, is still an easy and natural prey of “lower grades of being than himself,” while the latter is not mediumistic at all, and hence in vulnerable.

At page 294 the author states a fact of scientific importance in saying that psychological powers are largely dependent upon the climate and soil to which the experiment has been accustomed. A Siberian schaman, or priest, who at home was levitated and displayed other remarkable powers, upon being taken to London could do nothing. Many have yet to learn that locality has as much to do with magic and medium- ship as with the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms. Nature wisely adapts man to locality as locality to man.

The chapters upon elementary spirits should be put into tract form and circulated at every meeting of Spiritualists. Not that they are perhaps wholly orthodox or thoroughly elaborated throughout, but because they give information that no medium or investigator should be without. The curses that have been entailed upon the cause and its adherents are the product of ignorance of these facts. Sensitives have unwittingly submitted themselves to the foul magnetism, and even the corrupting embraces, of human spirits positive to their physiological and psychological passivity. Think of a negro lynched for rape, or a debauchee whose whole life was devoted to immorality, coming into a circle as an invisible spirit, and overpowering a medium with his magnetic effluvium before the danger is suspected. The thought is horrible to contemplate. And yet this thing has been going on for thirty years. American Spiritualism has been sensibly retrograding into mere wonder seeking, and dogmatism shows itself in the angry denunciation of those who insist upon test conditions and proof of the authorship of phenomena.

The author of “Art Magic” tells us that he has made three visits to America to study the spiritual manifestations. He sums up the situation by saying that he has observed with more regret than surprise, a gradual but evident decadence in the general feeling of grateful appreciation which these manifestations at first awakened. Some believers have become accustomed to what was at first an exciting wonder, and their curiosity satisfied, they need no more. Others have slackened in seal because they have been disappointed in some special results they anticipated; but a still larger number have withdrawn their public support from a movement where the taint of human folly and impurity has become so evident as to brand every class of believers with the evil reputation fastened upon it by the few. Hallucination and imposture, too, have prevailed to an alarming extent in the ranks of spiritism, and these two last elements combining with the before-mentioned causes, have shaken the faith of many, and repelled still mere from the cause.”

This is severe, but unfortunately too true. We will all concur with him that the remedy consists in studying the laws of spirit intercourse, “and endeavoring scientifically to master its methods, so as to control the communion, and be enabled to conduct it at pleasure.” That “Art Magic” will help to bring about this result cannot be questioned. One slander, the transparent absurdity of which did not prevent its gaining currency is effectually refuted by this book—neither the author nor editor are playing into the hands of the; Jesuits. No one could ask a more hearty or scornful denunciation of the theology of Rome than is given in the following lines;

“The attitude of the Christian Ministry towards the spiritual side of man’s nature, has been that of unceasing hostility and presumptuous denunciation; can we wonder then that a final eclipse of faith has fallen upon the people thus materialized by the very power to whom they have entrusted the charge of their spiritual relations, or that the soul of Christian humanity has become secularized, and its spiritual functions dwarfed almost to annihilation by such a process of training?”

The author's views of the “Fall,” the origin of man, sex, generation, and other matters of a kindred nature, are told in some striking passages claimed to have been given by a planetary spirit through the mediumship of a little Hindoo child of six years, which I would be glad to quote did space permit. I know of nothing in the way of spirit communication to excel them in sublimity of language, purity of sentiment or clearness of statement. Would to Heaven we had such gifted mediums in this country to charm and instruct. A few more volumes like “Art Magic,” and Spiritualistic literature would cease to be the sport of the critic, and the despair of the student who would economize time.

(Turn over leaf on your left; then the top one on the right)

Ghost Land

The unknown author of “Art Magic" has given to the world, through the hand of his friend. Emma Hardinge Britten, as editor, another work known as “Ghost Land or researches into the Mysteries of Occultism.” It consists of a series of Autobiographical sketches in two parts—the Neophyte and Adept.

The author commences with an allusion to his parents. It is a singular coincidence that the circumstances therein narrated should correspond so closely to the historical facts concerning the Prince Salm-Salm, a person who has visited this country, is well known in England, and a profound occultist. If he is numbered among Mrs. Britten's friends we name him as the author of “Ghost Land” and “Art Magic.”

Louis, as the biographer calls himself in these sketches, is sent to college at the age of twelve where he joins the class of Professor Felix Von Marx, who was a member of a society of mystics, but pursued the occupation of a teacher at these secret organizations had been forbidden by the government. The professor discovers that Louis is a “dreamer” and causes him to be initated in the society in that capacity. This gives him an opportunity to acquaint his readers with he philosophy of the “Berlin Brotherhood." Much of it would be familiar to Spiritualists, portions of it might be considered visionary, and a few of its principles will awaken anew the controversy regarding elementaries. For instance: —

Thus, as men was composed of earthly substances, vegetable tissues, mineral, atmospheric, and watery elements, so all these had realms of spiritual existences, perfectly in harmony with their peculiar quality and functions. Hence, they alleged there were earthly spirits; spirits of the flood, the fire, the air; spirits of various animals; spirits of plant life, in all its varieties; spirits of the atmosphere; and planetary spirits, without limit or number. The spirits of the planets amt high er worlds than earth took rank far above and of those that dwelt upon or in its interior.

Louis soon found that his new associates denied the continued existence of the soul after death, but believed that its essence progressed by entering into organic forms. He was mbued with this teaching, by their forms and ceremonies,

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Editor's notes

  1. Art Magic by Olcott, H. S., Spiritual Scientist, v. 5, No. 14, December 7, 1876, pp. 153-4
  2. Ghost Land by unknown author, Spiritual Scientist, v. 5, No. 14, December 7, 1876, pp. 145, 147