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vol. 3, p. 163
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 3 (1875-1878)


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Ancient Theosophy; or Spiritism in the Past

By Charles Sotheran

As the Indian canoe gives place to the Atlantic screw steamer, so by the law of growth and decay in all nature there is nothing lost. There is simply a new conservation of forces. As the earth revolving on its Awn axis evolves light for some and darkness for others, so by the turn of the whirligig is evolved civilization for some and barbarism for others. So with the ancients we are now studying; so with ourselves, as Louis Jacolliot points out:—

“In the same manner as modern society jostles antiquity at each step—as our poets have copied Homer and Virgil, Sophocles and Euripides, Plautus and Terence; as our philosophers have drawn inspiration from Socrates, Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle; as our historians take Titus Livius, Sallust, or Tacitus as models; our orators Demosthenes or Cicero; our physicians study Hyppocrates, and our codas transcribe Justinian—so had antiquity’s self also an antiquity to study, to imitate, and to copy.

Rise and Decay, Decay and Rise! From caterpillar to chrysalis, from chrysalis to butterfly, from butterfly to caterpillar interminably. Where are the developments of the lost arts and sciences? where of the old civilizations of Asia, of Carthage, of Memphis, which have each given way to others to replace them again in the ages.

“Westwards the course of empire wings its way,” and eastwards Russia looms ahead to plunge all perhaps into the barbarism of Cossack state, as the Huns, Goths, and Vandals, making way for exotericised Christianity which cast Europe from the heights of Roman civilization into the depths of centuries of darkness she is gradually creeping from. Perhaps four thousand years hence, in the “Martyrdom of Man,” the master race of the future will be the African again, and the Caucasian be transformed into the earth-eater.

The mysteries of the ancient Esoteric doctrines are synonymous in the minds of many with flagrant debauchery, owing to the fact that Christian writers like Justin Martyr or Tertullian turned on their accusers with a Tu quoque when their own Agapal were attacked. That many instances did occur when perhaps some breach of decorum happened is possible, but we should remember that old Hornie “is not so black as he is painted.” They are simply on a par with the stories concocted of the Hindoos and their ceremonies by their descendants, the Christian missionaries of to-day, who should look at home, and scent the sweet odors wafted from Plymouth.

“Let those who are without sin first cast the stone,” and let us beware of Christian Sacerdotalism, beckoning with blood be-dabbled hands reeking with the crimes of centuries.

Beware of Christian Ultramontanism, crushing out the intellect and sapping the life blood of humanity: gagging the mouth of Freedom in the folds of her priestly robes.

And in the words of another:—

“Let us beware; the times of Brahminism, of Sacerdotalism, of Levitism, in India, in Egypt, in Judea, present nothing to compare with the flames of the Inquisition, the Vaudois massacres, or St. Bartholomew’s, for which Rome made St. Peter’s resound with a Te Deum of exultation.

“Henry of Germany. Emperor and King, passing three days with his feet in the snow, his head bowed down under the vulgar hand of a fanatic priest, had no parallel midst votaries of Brahma, of Isis, or of Jehovah. Let us beware.”

Beware of all this; and, I say, from contemplating the Christian past, regard the Essenian initiate of Nazareth walking in the cornfields with the humble fishermen, his companions, and teaching abnegation—the acme of philosophy— and then look at the defilement in that sacred spot of antiquity—

“Where Cicero and Antonius lived,
A cowled and hypocritical monk
Lies, curses, anD deceives.”

As the Mahommedan guard in charge of the Holy Sepulchre keeps the peace Between Greek and Latin monks ready to tear each other’s hearts out, so does Spiritism at this moment stand holding the balance between the two hundred million Roman Catholic and the two hundred million Oriental and Protestant Christians, trembling at the next innovation of modern science, justly opposed to the Bucherian clap-trap of Sankey-drome leaders.

As true science is not opposed to true religion, so are both not opposed to Theosophic Spiritism; but all these have to fear the dilletante dabblers only apprehending half truths. Let us have more science and more rational religion, commingle the elements, and integralise exact modern wisdom with ancient knowledge, which never dogmatises, but leaves to their fanatical half-fledged followers.

Theosophic Spiritism is now, and ever must be, a power for the good of the race, for men to-day. as in the early ages, are—

“Convinced that the most perfect half, the real man, had originated in the world of spirits, and that he derived from it his vital energies, being as little able to sever himself from its influence as the bough from the tree stem, or the stem from its roots. According to this innate theosophical belief, we find in all nations and in all ages the most deep rooted belief, or at least a conception of such a spiritual relationship, and the desire of communicating with celestial things.”

Theosophic Spiritism is no geological fossil to be classed with the mastodon and ichthyosanrus, but a living power by which—

“Man may become, by the assistance and co-operation of spiritual powers, and the capacities of his higher divine origin, capable of a higher sphere of activity, as well without as within himself, which gives him dominion over his own, and over surrounding nature.”

With such knowledge in common, a band of union has in all ages united Theosophists, and so humanity; for with them virtue was a truism and truth an aphorism. Through this simple belief we can realize why the Mystics or Theosophists were far from unpracticable. As the late Charles Kingsley tells us—

“If we look faithfully into the meaning of their name, we shall see why, for good or for evil, they cannot be unpractical; why they, let them be the most self-absorbed of recluses, are the very men who sow the seeds of great schools, great national and political movements, even great religions.”

All is dark and drear around; for the atheist stalks abroad and defies the innate perceptions mysteriously placed in the intelligence of the race. The highest point apprehended by the keenest of mathematicians, Herbert Spencer, is the “Unknowable,” and the greatest progress of modern science is the incompatibility expressed by the Tyndalian “Incomprehensibility.”

With men like those Bishop Temple describes, and to whom—

“Truth often seems to him richer and fuller when expressed in some favorite phrase of his mother’s or some maxim of his father’s. He can give no better reason, very often, for much that he does every day of his life, than that his father did it <... continues on page 3-167 >


The Mediumship of Mrs. Compton at Havana, N.Y.—What Appears Under Test Conditions.—The Testimony of Col. Olcott and Others.

In his interesting work, “People from the Other World,” Col. Olcott gives an account of his investigations into the mediumship of Mrs. Elizabeth J. Compton of Havana, N. Y. Her mediumship for physical phenomena dates from March, 1873, though from a child she seems to have been a spirit seer.

Col. Olcott’s first seance with this medium was on Jan. 30th, 1875, when a youthful, feminine figure, whose weight seemed scarcely more than that of a child of eight years, came forth from the cabinet, clad in a flowing robe of crisp white muslin, ' passed around from one spectator to another, sat upon Col. Olcott’s knee, and kissed him on his left cheek. And here is the marvelous feature of this phenomenon: “By pre-arrange, ment,” says Col. Olcott I passed into the cabinet while the girl was outside, and found ho medium there, although I not only examined every nook, but the better to assure myself that I was not psychologized felt the chair, the walls, and all the space about.”

At another setting Col. Olcott weighed the spirit form, and the first weighing made her seventy-seven pounds, the second fifty-nine, and the third, fifty-two. During this sitting Mrs. Compton submitted to the most satisfactory tests. Cot Olcott removed her earrings, and seating her in the chair in the cabinet, fastened her in it by passing some No. 50 sewing thread through the perforations in her ears, and sealing the ends to the back of the chair with sealing wax, stamped with his private signet He then fastened the chair to. the floor with thread and wax in a secure manner.

While the spirit form was outside he entered the cabinet, looking carefully everywhere, and feeling cautiously but thoroughly all about, but, as before, finding no vestige of the medium. The chair was there, but no bodily presence sat in it.

And now comes the crowning marvel. After the girl spirit and another, an Indian, who showed himself at the door, disappeared, and the seance was at an end. Col. Olcott went inside the cabinet with a lamp, and found the medium just as he had left her at the beginning of the seance, with every thread unbroken and every seal undisturbed. He cut the threads that bound her, and lifting the chair by its back and seat carried her in an unconscious state into the open air of the chamber. Here, he put her upon the weighiug scale, and she was found to weigh one hundred and twenty-one pounds.

Among the percontras to this narrative, we should mention, that previous to Col. Olcott’s visit, Prof. Anthony, of Cornell University, had undertaken to investigate Mrs. Compton's mediumship, and had pronounced her a humbug and a fraud, lie had tried to seize and hold one of the appearing spirits, but it had eluded his grasp, and glided into the cabinet, where the medium was found in her chair and covered with blood. The Professor sets it all down as an imposition, and has written a communication to that effect. But the principal ground for his assumption seems to be that he has heard, ill reports of Mrs. Compton, and believes her to be unchaste. From all that we have learned we are inclined to think the Professor has been hasty in his judgment and that farther inquiry will lead him to unsay what he has said. We have yet to learn that the moral character of a medium has any thing to do with his or her powers as a sensitive. And moreover, it is emphatically denied that Mrs. Compton is the sort of person the Professor imagines her to be.

Col. Olcott’s testimony in behalf of Mrs. Compton has been very recently confirmed by that of George A. Bacon and Dr H. B. Storer, who on the 15th of March last visited Havana N. Y., and had most satisfactory seances (a report of which appears in the Banner of Light), during which all the marvels recounted by Col. Olcott were fully corroborated. Of the girl spirit it is said: —

“As she emerged a second time and approached one of the committee, Mr. Bacon entered the cabinet, and found nothing but the empty chair. Sufficient time was taken to make thorough search. The floor, the sides, overhead, under and within the chair, were all examined, and there warn nothing bat as here described. Mrs. Compton, whom he had taken sock care to help bind but half an hour before, was missing! Resuming his seat, ‘Katie’ again stepped upon the scales, and weighed just fifty-five pounds, which is thirty-seven pounds less than her previous weight, and sixty-six pounds less than the weight of Mrs. Compton. Again returning to the cabinet and emerging the third time she stepped upon the platform and turned the scale at forty-seven pounds, which it forty-five pounds less than her first weight, and seventy-four less than Mrs. Compton's weight. While being weighed, both of her hands at the same time patted the head of him who was testing her weight; then stepping down, she walked round, sat in his lap and gently kissed him on his forehead. Then it was for the first time he noticed she carried a delicate lace handkerchief in her hand. The texture of her dress was of the softest cashmere. During each of these visits from the cabinet, she approached several members of the circle, gently <... continues on page 3-164 >

Editor's notes

  1. Ancient Theosophy; or Spiritism in the Past by Charles Sotheran, Spiritual Scientist, v. 4, No. 14, June 8, 1876, p.161
  2. Materialization by unknown author, Spiritual Scientist, v. 2, No. 5, April 8, 1875, p. 49