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vol. 1, p. 48
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 1 (1874-1876)


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< Msr. Holmes Caught Cheating (continued from page 1-47) >

and in very gentlemanly manner requested her to allow a committee of four ladies to search her before she left the room or cabinet, in order to prove skeptics that they had been looking at materialized spirits and not at rubber masks. This Mrs. Holmes stoutly refused to submit to, and, under the plea being faint, tottered from room; but no sooner was she upon the stairs than she rushed, without hat or shawl, into the street, and no amount persuasion induce her to submit to the test of an investigation. She was offered one hundred dollars in addition to what was promised her, if she would submit to the investigation and was found innocent of the charge that bad been made against her. But she remained persistent in her refusal; therefore, we, unhesitatingly declare that as Mrs. Holmes has failed, in every instance, to give us satisfactory proof of her genuineness, we believe that her manifestations in Brooklyn were gross frauds, practiced upon as earnest, sincere and humble an assembly of investigators as ever met, who feel that their the holiest and most sacred feelings have been outraged by the imposition practiced upon them, and which the refusal of Mrs. Holmes to vindicate herself clearly proves.

A. B. Smith, President of the Society of Brooklyn Spiritualists; H. P. Bostwick, Vice President; George W. Young, Secretary; A. B. Turner, John L. Martin, Mrs. A. B. Smith, Mrs. P. J. Hussey, Samuel D. Greene, Thomas Shevill, Charles W. Wardwell, R. White, Miss Annie White, E. M. Loyd, George Cooper, M. D. Edward H. Greene.

The Immortal Life

New view of spiritual phenomena—A card from Col. Olcott

To the of Editor The Tribune

Sir: A most scholarly, dignified, and friendly review of my book, “People from the Other World,” which appeared in The Tribune of July 13, opens with these words: “The student of necromancy will nothing more marvelous in the works of Albertus Magnus, Cornelius Agrippa, Nostradamus, Paracelsus, Girolamo Cardano, or any other distinguish authority on the arts of magic, than the wonders which are related with such naive simplicity and good faith in this remarkable volume.”

Permit me to join issue with you, by saying that in the works of these Occultists will be found the very thing which the student will search my volume for in vain, namely, a philosophy to account for the strange phenomena of the ancient adepts and our modern mediums. If I had been with those authorities when I wrote that book, my treatment of the subject would have been quite different, for I would not then have had to grope my way blindfold toward the truth, and be so constantly vigilant lest I should fall into a bog at either side of the path.

What I say of my own book applies equally to all others upon the same subject that have come under my notice. I have looked in vain these past twenty-five years in spiritualistic literature for anything worthy of the name of a philosophy. I have watched the varying phases of the “manifestations” in the hope of seeing the elucidation of some law to explain their occurrence, and reconcile me to the same. Together with all other sensible men, I have deplored their puerile, absurd, and often repulsive character, and been shocked at the disgusting fallacies of free-love, affinity, and individual sovereignty to which they have given birth. My incredulity as to the return of heroes, statesmen, geniuses, and martyrs to the sphere of their former labors, through the turgid atmospheres of most popular mediums, matched in intensity that of the most stolid donkey ever wrote the initials F. R. S. or A. S. S. (too often alas! convertible titles), after his name. Throughout this quarter century I have hoped against hope that some day a Newton might arise, deduce from the fall of one of Sodom-apples of the circle the law of spirit intercourse, and demonstrate with mathematical certainty the immortality of man’s soul. I could see plainly enough that, however much faith I might have inherited, and howsoever well that might serve me in dealing with Christian theologians, it would prove only incumbrance in a contest with one of our modern scientific skirmishers, who scale the bulwarks of Faith as nimbly and as remorselessly French zouave would the walls of a cathedral or monastery. Against such foes the sword of Fact must supplement the buckler of Faith, and it seemed to me that this modern outbreak of Spiritualism ought to furnish us just this weapon, the whole thing were not a shameful cheat.

I could see nothing comical in the most puerile of these phenomena, but on the contrary, reason for a vigilance and seriousness of inquiry proportionately great, they multiplied and changed face. My disgust, derision, and indignation were never for the manifestations for the forces producing them, but for the credulity, the mischievous theories, and the practices of their believers and patrons.

The World, reviewing my book, calls me a “Spiritualist,” and so have other papers, whereas nothing could be more opposed to the truth.[2] If to have long acknowledged that phenomena occur in the presence of mediums which are not the effects of legerdemain, and to admit that they rooted fast and strong my faith in God and my soul’s immortality, makes me a Spiritualist, then I have been one for many years; but if to discredit nearly every theory of spirit communication, existence and employment advanced the recognized leaders of that people since the Hydesville epiphany;[3] if to dissent from their views upon social questions, to have no faith in the uniform integrity of mediums, and the truthfulness of their familiar spirits,[4] is to be the opposite, then The World, The Graphic, and other journals have falsely stigmatized me.

You will not wonder, Sir, in view of what is above stated, that I take little exception to the general conclusions, resulting from a superficial view of the subject, which you express in the following eloquent words: “Nor do the wonderful phenomena related by Mr. Olcott appear to shed much light on the problem of human destiny. Admitting their reality, there is no connection between visions of glamour and the immortal hopes of humanity. Hobgoblins furnish no answer to the obstinate questionings of the soul. But the spectacular scenes on the Chittenden rocks have not yet been brought within the domain of accurate knowledge. The actors in them may be ghosts, or genii, or gas, or the ‘aery tongues that syllable men’s names on rocks, and shores, and desert wildernesses.’ In no case are they guides to Heaven, and probably quite as little, leaders to hell. They teach nothing, they prove nothing, they suggest nothing. They dispel no doubts, relieve no fears, inspire no hopes. The hints which are given the specters of their present abodes are absolutely appalling. Instead of the yellow meads of asphodel which enchanted the Grecian imagination, and the celestial on golden lyres, like the voice of many waters, which are dear to the Christian heart, they open a dreary waste of moral stagnation and mental poverty, of vulgar conceptions and debased habits, of bad manners and bad grammar, compared with which even the extinction being might be counted as a privilege. It the savages of the ancient forest and the harlequins of modern civilization are the best representatives of the spirits of the just, the amaranthine crown is a bauble and the music of heaven a mockery.”

The prospect of existence beyond the grave in such a company would make one hail the idea of annihilation with the rapture which must seize a member of the Liberal Club at the sight of tray of snuffers, whose contents are the fitting emblems of his faith.

But suppose all our smart pamphleteers have been upon a wrong scent, what precious waste of wit has there not been! Suppose these ancient authors whom you name in your opening paragraph were right after all, and it should be found that they had pushed beyond the vail of Isis to where Nature lurks, and, standing beside her, had learned her secrets, discovered the clue to her labyrinth, and could teach us how to summon and master the “spirits of the vasty deep?” Suppose I should tell you[5] that, in most unexpected way and at a most fortuitous time, I had come into contact with living persons who could do and had in my presence done the very marvels that Paracelsus, Albertus and Apollonius are accredited with; and that it was shown to me that all these seeming miracles of the circle are no miracles at all, but natural manifestations of absolutely natural law; that man has dominion over the powers of nature by right of his immortal soul’s divine parentage; that the “spirits” which produce nine-tenths of the genuine “manifestations” are not the spirits of men or women from this earth, but something quite different, and something that does not inhabit our future world, nor stroll with us the asphodels; that the wise, the pure, the just, the heroic souls who have passed on before us into the Silent Land, cannot and do not come back to spout sapphics through scrub-women, nor swing through the air on a spiritual trapeze at the bidding or poverty-stricken mediums, for the delectation of the gaping crowd. What when?[6] You see there are likely to be found grains of wheat under this mountain of chaff. If the priceless treasures of the Alexandrian Library had not been used to heat the public baths, the “Lost Arts” of the ancients, including the art of communing with the dead and the power to look beyond the vail to our future home, might not be now “lost” to all but a select few in the Oriental fraternities, and it would not be necessary for so humble a pen as mine to rebuke so distinguished a critic as yourself for writing what you have about these people from the other world.

Henry S. Olcott.

New-York, Aug. 23, 1875.

Physical Mediums and The Banner of Light

We printed last week an extended account of the mediumship of Mrs. Thayer, of Boston, which was given through the columns of the New York Sun by Col. H. S. Olcott, whose researches at <... continues on page 1-49 >

Editor's notes

  1. The Immortal Life by Olcott, H. S., New-York Daily Tribune, Monday, August 30, 1875. Reprinted in The Banner of Light, September 11, 1875
  2. Text in italic in Banner of Light, there is no such italic in New-York Daily Tribune. — O.B.
  3. Text in italic in Banner of Light, there is no such italic in New-York Daily Tribune. — O.B.
  4. Text in italic in Banner of Light, there is no such italic in New-York Daily Tribune. — O.B.
  5. Text in italic in Banner of Light, there is no such italic in New-York Daily Tribune. — O.B.
  6. Text in italic in Banner of Light, there is no such italic in New-York Daily Tribune. — O.B.
  7. Physical Mediums and The Banner of Light by unknown author, Banner of Light, The, Saturday, September 11, 1875, p. 4. Part of the title is lost