WAS IT “SPIRITS” OR WHAT?
[The Theosophist, Vol. IV, No. 1, October, 1882, pp. 23-25]
[A correspondent who signed himself “A Perplexed Theosophist” wrote describing some premonitory dreams and apparitions which had occurred in connection with the death of a niece, and asking for an explanation. H. P. B. replied as follows:]
The strict adherence to our duty as an Occultist, while it satisfies a few of our fellow students, materially detracts, in the opinion of our spiritualistically-inclined friends, from the value of our editorial notes and explanations. The latter find that our theories will not bear comparison with those upon similar phenomena of the Spiritualists. They charge us with the double crime of being not only personally unsatisfied with their explanations about spiritual
communications, and with refusing to infer the “spirit” presence from the many wonderful phenomena we acknowledge as genuine, but also with leading our readers into heresy and error, regarding such. We are not content, they reproachfully tell us, to humbly acknowledge facts, and accept the testimony of the agents at work behind the phenomenal effects which crowd the records of modern spiritualism, but in our pride we seek to penetrate into unfathomable mysteries, to not only ascertain the nature of the relations between cause and effect, or, in other words—between medium and phenomena—but even to fathom mysteries that spirits themselves confess their inability to explain. Too much speculation on certain subjects leads the mind into a sea of error—think our European and American spiritualistic friends—and it is sure to land us “in regions of Falsity.” If men would leave off speculating, and would simply stick to fact, truth would be more readily attained in each and every case.
For the sake of those of our friends who have made of spiritualism a new “Revelation,” a “glorious faith,” as they call it, we feel really sorry to be forced to hurt their feelings by our “blank denial.” But truth stands higher in our opinion than any earthly consideration ever will; and, it is truth—at least we so regard it—that compels us to answer those, who come to us for an explanation, according to the teachings of occultism, instead of telling them, as Spiritualists would, that such phenomena are all produced by disembodied mortals, or spirits. To ascertain the laws according to which psycho-physiological manifestations take place from a spiritualistic standpoint is, no doubt, a gratifying kind of knowledge; but we, Occultists, are not satisfied with only this. We seek to learn primal, as well as secondary, causes; to fathom the real, not apparent, nature of that power that performs such strange, seemingly supernatural operations; and, we think, we have succeeded in unravelling some of its mysteries and in explaining much of the hitherto unexplained. Hence our conviction that the Force which the Spiritualists view as a thinking, intelligent Principle, a power, that can never be manifested outside the
magnetic aura of a sensitive, is oftener a blind energy than the conscious production of any beings or spirits; and, also, that this Force can be replaced by the conscious will of a living man, one of those initiates, as a few may yet be found in the East. We cannot be content with the easygoing theory of returning spirits. We have seen too much of it. And, since we are thoroughly convinced that nearly everything in connection with this mysterious agent—the “Astral Serpent” of Éliphas Lévi—had been discovered ages ago, however little knowledge of it we may claim personally, yet we know sufficiently, we think, to judge on the whole correctly of its influence upon, and direct relations with, the corporeal machines called mediums; as also of its intercorrelations with the aura of every person present in the séance-room. Moreover, we maintain that it looks far more reasonable to follow the uniform teaching upon this subject of one school, than to be hopelessly groping for truth in the dark, with our intellects literally rent asunder by the thousand and one conflicting “teachings” of the supposed denizens of the “Spirit-World.”
Had our correspondent asked—for an explanation of the weird phenomena that have just occurred in his family—one possessed practically of that knowledge, he would, no doubt, have received perfectly correct information as to what really took place, and how the phenomena have come to pass (that is to say, if the adept had found [it] worth his while to undergo a mentally painful process, and safe to divulge the whole truth to the public). While now, he has to be content with a few generalities. We can tell him for a certainty what it was not, but we cannot undertake to say what it really was, since similar effects may be produced by a hundred various causes.
We will not touch upon the question of foreboding dreams, since the existence of such is proved to all but incurable sceptics, and is easily accounted for by everyone who believes and knows that inside his body of flesh, the gross envelope, there is the real, generally invisible, body of ethereal elements, the Ego, that watches and never sleeps. The facts as described seem certainly as though they
belonged to that class of phenomena which are regarded as “spiritual,” and which occur, under ordinary circumstances, only where there are one or more mediums in the family. The regular and periodic trance-fits, which our correspondent’s relative had suddenly become subject to for several consecutive nights, would point to that lady as being the cause, the principal generator of the phenomena. But, since we know nothing of her previous state of health, and lack further details that might give an additional clue to the mystery, our explanation must be regarded as a simple suggestion. Though the Occultists reject, on the whole, the theory of disembodied Egos manifesting after death, yet they admit of certain possibilities of a real spirit’s presence, either preceding or directly following physical death, especially when the latter was sudden as in the case of the writer’s niece. We are taught by those in whom we have full confidence, that, in such rapid cases of dissolution, the body may be quite dead, and buried, and yet the brain—though its functions are stopped—may preserve a latent spark of will or desire, connected with some predominating feeling in life which will have the effect of throwing into objectivity, of thrusting, so to say, into a certain magnetic current of attraction the astral Ego, or doppelgänger, of the dead body. Whenever, we are told, death is brought on by suffocation, apoplexy, concussion of the brain, haemorrhage, or some such change, “the tripod of life”—as the Greeks called it—the heart, the lungs and the brain, the fundamental basis upon which animal life is erected—is simultaneously affected in its three parts; the lungs and heart, the organs the most intimately associated in the circulation of the blood, becoming inactive, and the blood not being sufficiently aërated on account of this inactivity, the latter often becomes the cause of putting a sudden stop to the functions of the brain, and so terminates life.
Therefore, before pronouncing upon the value of an apparition, an Occultist has always to ascertain whether complete death was brought on by, or primarily due to the death of the lungs, the heart, or the brain. But of all these the latter—on account of its double functions—the spiritual
and the physical—is the most tenacious. As cessation of breathing and of the pulse, stoppage of the heart, coldness and paleness of the surface, a film on the eye, and the rigidity of the joints are no sure indications of real physical death; and, as the facies Hippocratica has deceived more than one experienced practitioner; so, even complete physical death is no indication that the innermost spiritual life of the brain is equally dead. The activity of the mind remains to the last; and the final physical function of the brain in connection with some feeling, or passion may impart, for all our physiologists can say to the contrary, a kind of post-mortem energy to the bewildered astral Ego, and thus cause it to continue its dynamic, seemingly conscious action even for a few days after death. The impulse imparted by the still living brain dies out long after that brain has ceased its functions forever. During life the astral Ego is dependent on, and quite subservient to, the will of the physical brain. It acts automatically, and according to how the wires are being pulled by either our trained or untrained thought. But after death—which is the birth of the spiritual entity into the world or condition of effects, the latter having now become for it a world of causes—the astral entity must be given time to evolute and mature a shadowy brain of its own before it can begin to act independently. Whatever its subsequent fate, and whatever happens in the meanwhile, no action of it can be regarded as a result of a conscious, intelligent will, no more than we would hold any gestures of a newly-born infant for actions resulting from a determined and conscious desire.
Thus, since the deceased young lady lost all consciousness some time before death, and that, being so young and so beloved in her family, she could hardly, when dying, have her thoughts occupied by anything but those around her—thoughts involuntary, and perhaps unconnected, as those of a dream, but still in a direct sequence to her habitual thoughts and feelings—every faculty of hers, paralyzed so suddenly, and severed, during its full vigour and activity, from its natural medium—the body, must have left its astral impress in every nook and corner of the house
where she had lived so long and where she died. Hence, it may have been but the “astral” echo of her voice, directed by her last thought and drawn magnetically to her uncle, the writer, that sounded in his “right ear, as though some one was whispering” or trying to speak to him; and the same astral echo of “her natural voice” that told his mother “to turn round.” Her appearance to her grandfather “in her usual dress” shows us that it was her astral reflection on the atmospheric waves that he saw; otherwise he would have hardly seen a real just disembodied spirit in such an attire. The presence of the “usual dress” forming part of an apparition—were the latter a voluntary, conscious act of the liberated Ego—would have naturally necessitated a previous conception in the plans of the latter, the creation, so to say, of that garment by the spirit—unless we have also to believe in conscious ghosts and independent apparitions of wearing apparel—before it could appear along with its owner. And this would be a predetermined act of volition difficult to suppose in a still dazed human “soul” just escaped from its prison. Even many of the more advanced Spiritualists admit today that, whatever its subsequent career, the freed spirit can never realize the great change, at least for several terrestrial days. Notwithstanding the above, we know well that we shall be not only laughed to scorn by scientific men as by all the unscientific sceptics, but also give again offence to Spiritualists. They would have us say: “It was the spirit of your departed niece, her voice, and real presence, etc.”; and then rest on our laurels without any further attempt at anything like a proof or an explanation. If the present one is found insufficient, let the Spiritualists and sceptics offer a better one and let impartial judges decide. Meanwhile, we would ask the former—if it was all produced by the conscious spirit of the deceased, why have all such manifestations stopped, as soon as the family had left the station and come to Allahabad? Is it that the spirit determined to come no more, or that the mediums in the family had suddenly lost their power, or is it simply because, as the writer puts it, “the effects then wore off, and nothing has happened since?”
With regard to sceptics our answer is still more easy. It is no longer a question with any sane man whether such things do and do not happen; but only what is the real cause that underlies such abnormal effects. Here is a case, which no sceptic—unless he denies the occurrence of the whole story a priori—will be ever able to explain otherwise but on one of the two theories—that of the Occultists and Spiritualists. A case in which a whole family of respectable persons of various ages testifies as eyewitnesses. This can no longer be attributed to a case of isolated hallucination. And in the presence of the frequent occurrence of such cases, every sober man ought to protest against the irrational proceedings of those who condemn without seeing, deny without hearing, and abuse those who have both seen and heard, for putting faith in their own eyes and ears. We have thousands upon thousands of testimonies coming from intelligent, valid persons, that such things do occur and—very frequently. If the senses of those persons are not to be trusted, then what else can be trusted? What better test of truth have we? How can we be sure of anything we hear, or even ourselves see? How are the most ordinary affairs of life to be conducted and relied upon? As a mesmerizer remarked to a sceptic: “If the rule, which the objectors to mesmeric phenomena persist in applying to them, were to be enforced universally, all the business of life must come to a stand.” Indeed no man could put faith in any assertion of any other man; the administration of justice itself must fail, because evidence would become impossible, and the whole world would go upside down. Therefore, and since science will have nothing to do with such abnormal phenomena, the great battle in consequence of the dispute as to the causes underlying them, between natural and unnatural theories, must be fought out between the Occultists and the Spiritualists alone. Let each of us show our facts and give our explanations; and let those—who are neither Occultists, Spiritualists, nor sceptics—decide between the contestant parties. It is not enough that all should know that such things do happen. The world must learn at last—under the penalty of falling back to superstitious beliefs in the
archenemy of man—the biblical devil—why such phenomena do so happen, and to what cause or causes they are to be attributed. We call for enquiry, not for blind credence. And—until enquiry has established scientifically, and beyond any doubt that the producing cause at work behind the veil of objective matter is what the Spiritualists proclaim it to be, namely, disembodied, human spirits, we beg to assert the right of the Theosophists, whether they be Occultists, sceptics, or neither, but simply searchers after truth—to maintain their attitude of neutrality and even of modest scepticism, without risking for it to find themselves crucified by both parties.