To the Editor of the Spiritual Scientist:
One of your subscribers, a person of intelligence and culture, writes to me as follows: “There is a great deal of mysticism, magic and cabala, creeping into the spiritual papers that interests me very little. If I can only get positive proof of a conscious existence after this life, I would receive it with deepest gratitude, and put off to that other life the occult studies that seem to interest so many. However, I judge no one—these students are probably hoping for something that will be of service to the world.”
The feelings thus expressed by my friend, (who is as yet only an earnest investigator, not a confirmed Spiritualist), are shared by other readers of your paper, and, as I believe, by many who have not made their opinions manifest. Like my correspondent, I am quite ready to believe that the students of occult lore, who hint to us of its marvels, hope to teach something which will be of service to the world. Their motives I would not question, neither do I deny the truth of their statements, I simply doubt whether It be of any practical benefit to people in general to receive the assurance (however well founded) that by the devotion of a life to certain cabalistic studies, knowledge and power, attainable in no other way, are to be gained. Only the very fewest have time and means at their disposal to devote to something of which they can know nothing with certainty beforehand.
The value of those branches of knowledge which are open to all may be estimated; but he who enters upon this occult study, determined to give himself up to its requirements, must necessarily come to this decision, through s blind faith in the representations of others. Now this is a blind, or at least, a degree of faith, which, fortunately I think, ii rather rare, and what I wish to know is, how those who cannot or will not follow this blind guide, are to be benefited in receiving the assurance that a knowledge, which is of all things most desirable, exists, but must remain to them forever unattainable? I do not ask this captiously, but as desiring to gain some light on the subject, and to see for myself, If possible, the value of words which now have little or no useful meaning to my mind.
For most of us, our life work, with the duties involved in it, is pretty clearly decided for us, and to gain light and strength for the satisfactory performance of these duties, is, I take it, of all acquisitions the most really important and valuable. The love of the marvellous, and the desire for power are strong in many, if not in most of us, and anything which promises a fulfilment of these yearnings exerts a claim difficult to resist.
The idea of learning something which is hidden from mankind in general, and of possessing a power through this knowledge peculiar to the Initiated, is very alluring to the imagination. But is this, after all, a noble longing, a desire for real intellectual and moral exaltation, a striving for something which, in making us truly wise will make us better, happier, and more useful men or women? And are those who claim to have gained this occult knowledge, and the power it confers, been proportionally better, happier and more useful in their day and generation?
It seems to me—though I may be in error, and if so, wish to be instructed—that the most genuinely good and desirable things in this life are free to all, and that the open secrets are those best worth knowing. The ability to exert a hidden control over others, to see, it may be, what occurs in our absence and to become aware of what friends or enemies say or do when unconscious of our scrutiny, would invalue, if really attainable by any means known to mortals, temptations so great and responsibilities so heavy, that only the very few could sustain them uninjured. Only the roost immaculate virtue, strong in its stainless purity, would be equal to such a strain.
In the great majority of cases, the temptations and responsibilities of life, as it is, are greater than men can manage wisely and successfully; and how immensely they would be increased by the attainment of magical powers, no one who has not pondered the subject very seriously can imagine, and no one, perhaps, can fully estimate save those who know by experience, what such an abnormal constitution involves.
That knowledge is worth most, that most tends to exalt the individual and the race, and this when rightly used becomes true wisdom, and is priceless. But do most of us who let slip a thousand opportunities for learning truths, taught by those wiser than ourselves so value knowledge, purely for its own sake, that we should be willing to make great sacrifices, and run great risks to obtain it?
If we become, all at once, very eager to know something that is hidden, should we not gravely suspect that an idle curiosity or base selfishness may be spurring us on, and making us unduly anxious to grasp a power, the workings and the real value of which we cannot understand?
Is it expected and desired that Spiritualists generally should become occultists? If so, then the means by which this end is to be attained should be made very much more clear than it has been made hitherto. And, if not, if this result is neither desirable nor practically possible, what is the use of telling all these people how very wise and powerful they would become if they could be initiated into certain mysteries which, in point of fact, must ever be hidden from them?
If the cup presented be one of healing, it is also a Tantalus cup to the many, since not one in a thousand who thirsts in seeing it presented to his lips, and In hearing of its marvellous efficacy, can ever taste the magic draught.
We are taught that “the greatest good to the greatest number” is that which we should regard as most desirable, — now, I would ask what good except, at best, to the elect, the very small number of chosen ones, is occultism expected to do? How are people generally to be benefitted by it?
Acknowledging my inability to conceive of a satisfactory reply to these queries, or to understand why outsiders should be expected to interest themselves in mysteries which they cannot verify and which can never be made intelligible to them, I can only hope that my questionings may not be taken amiss by those whose mission it is to enlighten the ignorance of American Spiritualists.
The newspapers and our spiritual contemporaries are having a lively time of it over Occultism and the still embryonic Theosophical society of New York. Col. Olcott has stirred up a pretty nest of hornets, and their buzzing comes to us on every passing breeze. The secular journals are divided between opposition, indifference, and sarcastic pleasantry. A few of the writers in- the spiritual ranks have taken the field and the subject bids fair to awaken a discussion that will be interesting as well as instructive.
Mrs. Mary Davis, wife of A. J. Davis, throws out a pioneer pamphlet, whose title, “Danger Signals,” is indicative of its warning contents; it is noticed by Col. Olcott in his article in this issue.
Prof. S. B. Brittan, in the Tribune, reviews Col. Olcott, and makes some strong points which will undoubtedly draw a reply from the last named. Col. Olcott is so positive and sweeping in his assertions and denunciations, that he lays himself open to attack; and Prof. Brittan deals not so much with Occultism as he does with the “elementary" spirit theory, and the arguments which have been adduced in favor of it.
Emma Hardinge Britten, in her correspondence to the Banner of Light, says Col. Olcott’s letters to the Tribune have “raised the very devil.” She thinks any human form presented, or human intelligence rendered in spiritual phenomena, has a human origin; and yet, she knows of the existence of other than human spirits, and has seen apparitions of spiritual or elementary existences, evoked by cabalistic words and practices. She says, —
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She is one of the original founders of the ...
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“ass” for announcing my belief; or to the editor of the Times, who said I had been made a stool-pigeon for skillful jugglers or to the editor of the Commercial Advertiser, who thought it more important to inform his readers that there was a misspelled word in a manuscript which I sent him on the subject, than it was to lay before them one of the grandest scientific truths the world has ever discovered.
If none of these gentlemen accept this challenge it is open to any atheist, infidel, magician, doctor, lawyer, clergyman, editor, or any other skeptic on the face of the globe. The money shall be deposited four weeks in advance of the time of submitting the tests.
If the parties accepting this challenge should desire to risk anything further on the honesty of this medium I will put up two dollars to their one to the extent of my entire fortune. The reader will notice that I do not ask to have a unanimous verdict of this jury, but that only a majority shall decide that this medium is a fraud, and to show how this fraud is produced, before the question is decided as to who gets the money.
The losing party is to pay all expense of the investigation, and any receipts for the admission of spectators shall go to the medium.
No. 39 West Twenty-sixth Street, New York, September 30.
- Occultism by Andrews, Louisa, Spiritual Scientist, v. 3, No. 1, September 9, 1875, pp. 8-9
- Occultism by Miller, E. P., Spiritual Scientist, v. 3, No. 6, October 14, 1875, pp. 66-7