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vol. 3, p. 129
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 3 (1875-1878)


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Ancient Theosophy; or Spiritism in the Past

The Greeks, by far the most intelligent of all the ancients, had very decided notions of Theurgy, and their country was a living Theosophy, through their belief of all nature being moved by spirit influence. It was this spiritality which formed their artists, sculptors and poets, and from which they have ever held a deserved pre-eminence in the minds of the civilised world. Our authors to this day only endeavor to excel the Greeks in composition and our sculptors fail lamentably in their conception of the Greek ideal.

We have fortunately had preserved the life of Pythagoras, whose name, derived from the Sanskrit, tells a history, and in which we can discover fresh civilization plainly discernable to the Egyptian influence and teachings which that celebrated philosopher had learnt from twenty-two years study of the sciences and spiritism in Egypt and which Orpheus and Thales are traditionally also stated to have acquired. In later times it was considered indispensible for the Greek savant to travel to the fountain heads of civilization. This Homer, Euripides, Solon and others gained their erudition in Egypt or India.

Zeus, the stoic, tells us the esoteric belief of the Greeks was in a Supreme considered as the soul of the world, with which God formed a living spherical spirit, and a portion of which in man constitutes the soul, thus having a dual character of animal and divine. The pages of Greek philosophy and Neo-Platonism teem with the most inspiring thoughts of the Immortal Spirit. Xenophon says: —

“Nothing resembles death more than sleep; but in sleep the human spirit especially reveals her divine nature; she then looks into futurity, being freed from the bonds of the body."

And Aretaeus remarks: —

“Until the spirit is set free, it works within the body obscured by vapors and clay."

Pythagoras, according to his biographer, Iamblichus, taught the doctrine of Metempsychosis and the final absorption of the soul into the Supreme; the founder of the Pythagorean school, in his theosophical! teachings, points out the hurtful effects of sorcery, the black art, and the beneficial of magic, the white. From his adept knowledge he communicated to his Initiated disciples the secrets learnt in the East of the exorcism of the evil and invocation of good spirits; these Plato describes as the connecting link between humanity and the Supreme, which according to all the old traditions man had lost.

Homer makes all his magicians Egyptians; and he frequently records the fact that personal communion with spirits was common in his day. Socrates, whose teachings on the immortality of spirit life are found in Plato's Phaedo, was attended by a spirit guardian, or Demon, who always watched over and aided him from contact with danger by his counselling voice. He describes it as a voice unheard by others and gives examples of its powers. For instance, it told him of an assassination about to be perpetrated; he says that prompted by the Daemon, he warned one of the confederates by saying to him, “Go not”; but the man, not profiting by the advice, committed the act, for which he was afterwards condemned to execution, when the murderer said, “This would never have happened to me if I had yielded to the intimation of Socrates.” Previous to the failure of the Athenian expedition under the command of Nicias to Sicily, the philosopher medium predicted Its miscarriage.

By theurgical power the Pythonesses, or Sybils, were stated to be able to foretel defeat or victory to the Greek arms, and, through the same, Abaris the Scythian, and also Melampus and Empedocles cured diseases by the use of certain words of import pronounced over the afflicted.

When Alexander the Great asked Calanus before being burnt to death if he required anything, by his power he answered, “Nothing; the day after tomorrow I shall see you.” which was subsequently verified.

Schelling, after careful Investigation into reliable ancient writers, acknowledges that in the Samothracian and Dionisian mysteries the Greek initiates “became, through the consecration, a link of the magnetic chain, received into the indestructible communication, and, as ancient history states, associated with the highest spirits."

From the land where Olympian Jove was worshipped, it is stated in ancient chronicles the sons of Danaus, King of Greece, settled in Albion, the mother country of this grand Republic, where, in olden days, before it was bound over to the Roman yoke, had in Celtic times, as well as in sweet Erin, mysteries in which Spiritistic wisdom was taught by the Druids, of equal antiquity with the Persian Magi and derived from the Chaldean and the Brahmin Gymnosophists.

They inculcated the worship of one most high in the phrase “God cannot be matter; what is not matter must be God," and also the doctrine of Spirital Metempsychosis; the Druids were polished and learned men, and from the Phoenicians learnt the rite of the Cabir, and their stone temples in Stonehenge and the Hebrides are to this day the “Pons Asinorum" of archaeologists.

The Greek colony, traditionally founded in Italy by Eneas, which afterwards swelled into the majestic proportions of the Roman Empire, carried with it the beliefs which had animated their forefathers. In the Mysteries were taught those pure truths which enabled the Romans to found systems so sublime and erudite that to-day our civilization is but a stereotyped copy of that emanating from the seven hills or the banks of the Tiber.

The apprehension of divination by the aid of the spiritual essence is well worked out by Roman sages, and explains the theory of the means by which the gifted and all-powerful augurs were able to fore tell events. The immortal Cicero tells us that—

“According to Posidonius man dreams in a three-fold manner by divine impulse. Firstly, the spirit sees the future through its relationship to the Supreme; secondly, the air is full of immortal spirits, in whom, as it were, the signs of truth are impressed; thirdly, the higher spirits themselves converse with the sleeper; but this is of more frequent occurrence when death approaches, so that the spirit beholds the future.”

Lamprias observes on this topic: —

“If the unembodied souls are, according to Hesiod's opinion, demons, holy inhabitants of the earth and guardians of mortal men, why should we seek to deprive these souls, which are still in the body, of that power by which the former know future events, and are able to announce them? It is not probable that the spirit gains a new power of prophecy after separation from the body, and which before it did not possess.”

The pages of other Latin authors are filled with spiritistic lore, and in numerous instances historical incidents are truthfully portrayed and in others fictitious. We can discern the truth looming through the shadows, that the writers simply presented us with their every-day experience dressed up in disguise.

Dido is made by Virgil to be able to call up the spirits of the dead, and the same poet gives a life-like picture in the eighth eclogue of a Roman Sorceress and her powers over the departed.

Horace and Ovid present equally interesting accounts of the ceremonies observed in ancient spiritism.

Lucan details particulars of Erichto, a medium of the period, who by desire of Sextus, son of Pompey, invokes a spirit from the shades in the following language: —

“I ask not of you a spirit already a tenant of the Tartarean abodes, and long familiarized to the shades below, but one who has recently quitted the light of day, and who yet hovers over the mouth of the Hades; let him hear these incantations and immediately after descend to his destined place! Let him articulate suitable omens to the son of his general, having so late been himself a soldier of the great Pompey.”

The spirit of the dead man appears as commanded, and after obeying her behests, trembling at the sight of his inanimate corpse, is desirous to again enter therein.

By far the most eminent of ill the Theosophists, and who stand out in bold relief from his time, is the immortal Appolonious of Tyana. On account of his being co-eval with Christ, and so resembling the Hebrew reformers in many particulars, he is known in history as the Pagan Christ. Arrayed like his master Pythagoras and the Egyptian priests in the purest white raiment, as being more conducive to cleanliness and the production of truthful visions, he taught a <... continues on page 3-132 >

Editor's notes

  1. Ancient Theosophy; or Spiritism in the Past by Sotheran, Charles, Spiritual Scientist, v. 4, No. 10, May 11, 1876, p. 116