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vol. 3, p. 208
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 3 (1875-1878)
Here and Hereafter 


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The Doctrine of “Re-incarnation”

In my last article I gave a surface view of the necessity, if not the actual duty, imposed upon Spiritualists to investigate, and prove either the truth or falsity of the doctrine of Re-incarnation, if they would have acceptance from the world, as teachers of those principles of spiritual existence, which so pre-eminently distinguish the philosophy of Spiritualism from the dogmas of Theology.

The very corner-stone of Spiritualism is fact, or the substitution of knowledge for faith. We who are Spiritualists do not surely believe, but absolutely know that the spirits of men once embodied on earth, live and communicate. We know this, first: from a set of sensuous demonstrations for which no earthly cause can be assigned, but for which the demonstrations themselves render us good and sufficient reason to attribute to spiritual beings. Next: because an immense mass of intelligence has been given through modes which mortals could not themselves have originated: and finally: because the intelligence so rendered has been identified with certain individuals once embodied upon earth and proving their claims to be acknowledged as its authors by the tests of special individuality which mark the communications.

Now if the mere philosophy of Spiritualism were to be arrayed against that of Christianity, Buddhism, or any other form of theologic faith, it would have to depend for its acceptance on the reasonableness of its theory or the credibility of its authors; but Spiritualism cannot thus be pitted against faiths whose existence is dependent upon a past record. The very lynch-pin of Spiritualism is its ability to supply those sensuous, demonstrable, and ever present facts, in which every form of mere credal belief is wanting, and for the lack of which they are crumbling into dust, and losing the adherence of the most analytical minds of the age. When therefore a mere theory is propounded from the very camp of Spiritualism, and those whom the world has been accustomed to look to as the apostles of a doctrine based upon facts, and presented with demonstrable evidences of its truth, undertake to use their facts as a cloak to cover their theories—Spiritualism retrogrades into the same realms of shadowy belief which enshroud so many forms of sectarian faith, and presents no more claims of acceptance from the reasoning mass of investigators than Christianity or Buddhism.

If Spiritualism is to advance beyond its phenomenal facts to the dignity of a philosophy, or the inspiration of a religion, it must not lose sight of its harmonious relation to its phenomena, nor descend from its lofty vantage ground of knowledge, into the vale of misty theory. Allan Kardec, the great apostle of the doctrine of Re-incarnation, while giving some of his opinions upon the authority of spirits, does not hesitate to base his central idea of Re-incarnation upon theories, which h« commends to his readers' acceptance, because he deems them reasonable, and assumes that they alone can account for the order of creation. His devoted follower, Miss Blackwell, no less than his sympathizers in America (few though their numbers be), are for the most part mediums, and propound their Re-incarnation theory upon the authority of what they claim to be spirit teachings. The chief, in fact the only difficulty in this case, is this: Those who have been accustomed to find in the plain, demonstrable facts of spirit communion a complete solution to all their theologic problems, and an anchor of assurance on which to rest their hopes of immortal progress and happiness, find themselves again entangled in the maxes of contradictory theory by this new feature of spiritualistic revelation, and as remarked in my former paper, must either discredit the media whom they have been accustomed to rely upon as heaven-inspired messengers of truth, or question the worth of spirit communion as a source of information at all.

It is in answer to very many earnest souls, faithfully seeking for the truth and nothing but the truth, that I have been induced to call attention to the groundless character of the testimony which the apostles of the Re-incarnation theory rely upon, not one item of which affords the profound analyst a shadow of evidence that their theories are correct.

The few mediums through which this doctrine is now communicated, have been many years before the public, and their earliest utterances imply a faith wholly at variance with their present creed. They used to teach the souls’ progress in the spheres and not on earth. They used to teach, that knowledge came through inspiration from spirits—not that spirits were obliged to come to earth to gain knowledge. These, and various other items of a similar kind, should induce those who insist upon pinning their faith upon mediumistic utterances, to inquire which, is the most reliable,—the inspirations of young, untutored minds, which like tablets of virgin wax, are free from the lines of previous impressions, and ready to receive whatever the new and original ideality of the spirit would care to communicate: or the vague opinions which float in the air around the atmosphere of every new reform, and from time to time find lodgment in the minds of those psychologic subjects who are susceptible of impressions from any source—mundane or spiritual.

Again: which should the seekers for truth rely on,—the fantastic theories of a few, whose present teachings are antagonistic to their former utterances, or the world-wide realm of intelligence which has distinguished and characterized the communications of tens of thousands of spirits during the earlier years of the great American outpouring? What one can make out from the vague, incoherent, and inconsistent theories of the Re-incarnationists, is not very likely to make many converts to their doctrines, nor to embarrass, for any great length of time, the unity and proficiency of the spiritual movement; still most propagandists of an idea are enthusiasts, whom it may not be possible, even if it were necessary, to convert from error. Such was Allan Kardec, such do I firmly believe to be Miss Anna Blackwell. Both undoubtedly were, and are sincere; and all who are candid seekers for truth are not only justified in analyzing their doctrines, hut in doing so, set an example which not a few of the fossiles of conservatism would do well to imitate.

Having done so myself and found the theory of Re-incarnation, to my apprehension, as well as that of hundreds perhaps thousands of others, a doctrine more loathsome, horrible, and repulsive than even annihilation itself, I, and those who think with me naturally begin to sift the evidences of its truth, and finding them theoretical merely, would gladly dismiss them all together as the unquiet dream of a fevered sleep, did we not find the hateful shadow thrown across the very path whose radiance has so lately beamed out upon our darkened way, from the sun of spiritual revelation. To disprove the doctrine of Re-incarnation, however, it does not seem necessary to sound its shallows, nor analyze its fallacies. Its chief enemy is Spiritualism—that is, Spiritualism properly understood, and its facts carefully separated from the theories of its adherents.

Before I close I shall ask permission to add a few citations from some of those records which, as being the first we have received from the spirit world in this generation, and coming; when our minds were utterly unbiased, in fact, in total ignorance of the spirit world altogether, or even what a spirit truly was, may be taken as of far more value than our present heterogeneous mass of revelation given on the authority of “thus saith the spirit” and uttered by those, who having grown familiar with spiritual things, think they can venture to interpolate where once they feared to tread.

In 1848, M. Alphonse Cahagnet published a work entitled “The Celestial Telegraph, or Secrets of the Life to Come, being a series of revelations given through several excellent somnambulists, whom M. Cahagnet magnetized for medical purposes, but with no view of obtaining the wonderful and startling intelligence which his subjects in the magnetic state volunteered.

M. Cahagnet’s testimony is all the more reliable as he entered upon his work as a magnetizer with no preconceived ideas of spiritual existence, nor the slightest expectation of receiving the astounding views of spirit life which his “Ecstatics” communicated. All was new to him, and original with them. They often manifested in the presence of the most distinguished and learned visitors. They were tested severely, far more than any of our media in the present day, and while describing the spirits of deceased persons in such vivid terms and with such correct minutiae, as to convince every investigator of the truth of what they discredited, they also gave an abundance of detail concerning the life of the spirit, the <... continues on page 3-209 >

Editor's notes

  1. The Doctrine of “Re-incarnation” by Britten, Emma Hardinge, Spiritual Scientist, v. 2, No. 12, May 27, 1875, pp. 140-1. Written for The Scientist