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THE MODERN OCCULTISTS
BEFORE the discoveries of the Indianists and Egyptologists, the modern occultists, who with the exception of Swedenborg, a great isolated visionary may be counted as descending from Martinez Pasqualis, who was born in 1715 and died in 1779, had perforce to study the same texts and the same traditions, applying themselves, according to taste, to the cabala or to the Alexandrian theories. Pasqualis wrote nothing, but left behind him the legend of an extraordinary magician. His disciple, Claude de Saint-Martin, the "Unknown Philosopher," was a sort of intuitive theosophist, who ended by rediscovering Jacob Boehme. His books, carefully thought out and admirably written, may still be read with pleasure and even with advantage. Without lingering over the Comte de Saint-Germain, who claimed to retain the memory of all his previous existences, Cagliostro, the mighty illusionist and formidable charlatan, the Marquis d'Argens, Dom Pernetty, d'Esprimenil, Lavater, Eckartshausen, Delille de Salle, the Abbe Terrasson, Bergasse, Clootz, Court de Gebelin, or all the mystics who toward the end of the eighteenth century were to be found in swarms, in aristocratic circles and the masonic lodges, and were members of the secret societies which were preparing the way for the French Revolution but have nothing of importance to teach us, we may pause for a moment at the name of Fabre d'Olivet, a writer of the first rank, who has given us a new interpretation of the Genesis of Moses, audacious and impressive. Being no Hebrew scholar I am not competent to pronounce upon its value, but the cabala seems to confirm it; and it presents itself surrounded by an imposing scientific and philosophical equipment.
And we now come to Eliphas Levi and his books, with their alarming titles: "A History of Magic," "The Key to the Great Mysteries," "Dogma and Ritual of the Higher Magic," "The Great Arcanum, or Occultism Unveiled," etc., the last master of occultism properly so called, of that occultism which immediately precedes that of our metapsychists, who have definitely renounced the cabala, Gnosticism, and the Alexandrians, relying wholly on scientific experiment.
Eliphas Levi, whose true name was Alphonse Louis-Constant, was born in 1810 and died in 1875. In a certain sense he epitomized the whole of the occultism of the middle ages, with its fumbling progress, its half-truths, its definitely limited knowledge, its intuitions, its irritating obscurities, its exasperating reticences, its errors and prejudices. Writing before he had the opportunity or the inclination to profit by the principal discoveries of the Egyptologists and the Indianists and the work of contemporary criticism, and himself devoid of all critical spirit, he studied only the medieval documents of which we have spoken; and apart from the "Sepher Yerizah," the "Zohar" (which, for that matter, he knew only from the fantastical fragments in the Kabbala Denudata), the "Talmud," and the Book of Revelation, he applied himself by preference to the most undeniably apocryphal of these documents. In addition to those which I have mentioned his three "bedside books" were the "Trismegistus," and "The Tarot."
The "Book of Enoch," attributed by legend to the patriarch Enoch, the son of Jared and the father of Methuselah, must actually be assigned to a date not far removed from the beginning of the Christian era, since the latest event with which its author was acquainted was the war of Antiochus Sidetes against John Hyrcanus. It is an apocalyptic book, probably from the pen of an Essene, as is proved by his angelology, which exerted a profound influence over Jewish mysticism before the advent of the "Zohar."
The "Writings of Hermes Trismegistus," translated by Louis Menard, who devoted an authoritative essay to the text, is attributed to Thoth, the Egyptian Hermes, and reveals some extremely interesting analogies with the sacred books of India, and notably with the "Bhaghavat-Gita," demonstrating once again the universal infiltration of the great primitive religion. But chronologically there is not the slightest doubt that the birthplace of the "Poimandres," "The Asclepius," and the fragments of the "Sacred Book," was Alexandria. The Hermetic theology is full of Neoplatonic and other expressions and ideas, borrowed from Philo, and whose passages of the "Poimandres" may be compared with the Revelation of St. John, which they actually echo, proving that the two works were written at periods by no means distant from one another. It is therefore not surprising that as far as the religion of ancient Egypt is concerned they have no more to teach us than had Iamblichus, since at the period when the Greeks investigated it the symbolism of this religion, as Louis Menard has observed, was already a dead letter to its very priests.
As for the "Tarot," it is, according to the occultists, the first book written by human hand and earlier than the sacred books of India, whence it is supposed to have made its way into Egypt. Unfortunately no trace of it has been discovered in the archeology of these two countries. It is true that an Italian chronicle informs us that the first card game, which was merely a vulgarized form of the "Tarot," was imported into Viterbo in 1379 by the Saracens, which betrays its Oriental origin. At all events, in its present form it does not go back further than Jacquemin Gringonneur, an illuminator in the reign of Charles VI.
It is obvious that with such data Eliphas Levi could not have any very important revelations to make us. He was moreover embarrassed by the ungrateful and impossible task which he had set himself in endeavoring to reconcile occultism with Catholic dogma. But his scholarship in his own province is remarkable; and he often displays amazing intuition, in which he seems to have come within sight of more than one discovery claimed by our metapsychists, notably in anything relating to mediums, the odic fluid, the manifestations of the astral body, etc. Further, when he deals with a subject which is not purely chimerical and is connected with profound realities morality, for example, or even politics and when he does not, as so many occultists do, wrap himself up in wearisome implications which seem afraid of saying too much, though in reality they betray only the fear of having nothing at all to say, he sometimes contrives to write admirable passages, which, after the exaggerated repute which they used to enjoy, do not deserve the unjust oblivion to which they are apparently condemned to-day.
Of the school of Eliphas Levi, and following almost the same track, we may reckon two considerable writers; Stanislas de Guaita and Dr. Encausse, better known by the name of Papus. Theirs is a rather special case. Two eminent scholars, they have a profound knowledge of cabalistic and Greco-Egyptian literature, and all the Hermetism of the middle ages. They are likewise familiar with the works of the Orientalists, the Egyptologists, and the theosophists and the purely scientific investigations of our occultists. They know also that the texts upon which they rely are apocryphal and of the most doubtful character; and although they know this, and from time to time proclaim it, yet they start from these texts as a basis; they hold fast to them; they confine themselves to them, building their theories upon them, as though they were dealing with authentic and unassailable documents. Thus de Guaita builds up the most important part of his work on the "Emerald Table," an apocryphal work of the apocryphal Trismegistus, having first declared: "We shall not quarrel over the authenticity, authorship, or date of one of the most authoritative initiatory documents that have been handed down to us from Greco-Egyptian antiquity.
"Some persist in seeing in it merely the nonsensical work of some Alexandrian dreamer, while others claim that it is an apocryphal production of the fifth century. Some insist that it is four thousand years older.
"But what does that matter? One thing is certain; that this page sums up the traditions of ancient Egypt." 1
It is not by any means certain, seeing that the authentic monuments of the Egypt of the Pharaohs offer us absolutely nothing to confirm this mysterious summary, and the writer's "What does that matter?" is rather startling, referring as it does to the text which he has made the keystone of his doctrine.
Papus, for his part, devotes a whole volume of commentary to the "Tarot," in which he sees the most ancient monument of esoteric wisdom, although he knows better than anybody that no authentic traces of it are to be found before the fourteenth century.
In calling attention to this fantastic fault at the base of their work and it naturally has many ramifications, I have no intention of questioning the integrity, the evident good faith of this extremely interesting work, which is full of original views, of ingenious intuitions, hypotheses, interpretations, and comparisons, of careful research and interesting discoveries. Both writers know many things which have been forgotten or neglected but which it is well sometimes to recall, and if Papus too often works hastily and carelessly, de Guaita is always mindful, almost to excess, of his careful, dignified, polished, and rather formal phrasing.
The position of the new theosophists is to some extent analogous with that of the three occultists of whom I have just been speaking. We know that the Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 by Madame Blavatzky. I need not here pass judgment on this enigmatical woman from the ethical point of view. It is undoubtedly the fact that the report of Dr. Hodgson, who was sent out to India in 1884 by the Society for Psychical Research especially to conduct an inquiry into her case, reveals her in a somewhat unfavorable light. Nevertheless, after considering the documentary evidence, I must admit that it is after all quite possible that the highly respectable Dr. Hodgson may himself have been the victim of trickery more diabolical than that which he believed himself to have unmasked. I know that extensive plagiarism has been imputed to Madame Blavatzky and other theosophists; in particular it is claimed that Sinnet's "Esoteric Buddhism" and "The Secret Doctrine" are the work of one Palma, whose manuscripts are supposed to have been bought by the founders of the Theosophical Society, that they contain unacknowledged passages, barely disguised, from works which had appeared twenty years earlier over the signature of various European occultists, and notably that of Louis Lucas.
I shall not linger over these questions, for they seem to me far less important than that of the secret and prehistoric documents and esoteric commentaries upon which the whole theosophical revelation is founded. Whoever the author or authors may be, I shall consider their work as it is presented. "Isis Unveiled," "The Secret Doctrine," and the rest of Madame Blavatzky's very numerous works form a stupendous and ill-balanced monument, or rather a sort of colossal builder's yard, into which the highest wisdom, the widest and most exceptional scholarship, the most dubious odds and ends of science, legend and history, the most impressive and most unfounded hypotheses, the most precise and most improbable statements of fact, the most plausible and most chimerical ideas, the noblest dreams, and the most incoherent fancies are poured pell-mell by inexhaustible truck-loads. There is in this accumulation of materials a considerable amount of waste and fantastic assertions which one rejects a priori; but it must be admitted, if we intend to be impartial, that we also find there speculations which must rank with the most impressive ever conceived. Their basis is evidently Vedic, or rather Brahman and Vedantic, and is to be found in texts that have nothing occult about them. But upon the texts of the official Indianists the Theosophists have superimposed others, which they claim are purer and much more ancient, and which were provided and expounded by Hindu adepts, the direct inheritors of the immemorial and secret wisdom. It is certainly a fact that their writings, without revealing anything new as regards the essential points of that great confession of ignorance which bounds the horizon of the ancient religions, none the less provide us with a host of explanations, commentaries, theories, and details which would be extremely interesting if only they had been subjected, before they were offered to us, to a historical and philological criticism as strict as that to which those Indianists who do not profess to be initiates have subjected their documents. Unfortunately this is not the case. Let us take, for example, the "Book of Dzyan"; that is, the mysterious slocas or stanzas which form the basis of the whole secret doctrine taught by Madame Blavatsky. It is represented as being "an archaic manuscript, a collection of split palm-leaves, rendered, by some unknown process, invulnerable to water, air, or fire, and written in a lost language, in Sinzar, earlier than Sanskrit, and understood only by a few Hindu adepts" and that is all. Not a word to tell us where this manuscript comes from; how it has been miraculously preserved; what Sinzar is; to which of the hundred languages, which of the five or six hundred Hindu dialects, it is related; how it is written; how it can still be understood and translated; what is approximately the period from which it dates, etc. No attention has been paid to these details. It is always so. One must believe a bare statement, without investigation. These methods are obviously deplorable, for if the texts in question had been sifted by an adequate process of criticism they would be among the most interesting in Asiatic literature. Such as they are offered to us, the Cosmogony and the anthropogenesis of the "Book of Dzyan" appear to be the speculations of Brahmans and might form part of the "Upanishads." An ingenious commentary accompanies them, the work of adepts absolutely familiar with the progress of Western knowledge. If they are really authentic prehistoric documents, their statements as to the evolution of the worlds and of man, partly confirmed as they are by our latest discoveries and scientific theories, are truly sensational. If they are not what they profess to be, their assertions are mere hypotheses, still impressive and sometimes plausible, but usually incredible and needlessly complicated, and, in any case, arbitrary and chimerical.
This does not alter the fact that "The Secret Doctrine" is a sort of stupendous encyclopedia of esoteric knowledge, above all as regards its appendices, its commentaries, its parerga, in which we shall find a host of ingenious and interesting comparisons between the teachings and the manifestations of occultism throughout the centuries and in different countries. Sometimes there flashes from it an unexpected light whose far-spreading rays illuminate regions of thought which are rarely frequented to-day. In any case, the work would prove once again, if proof were needed, and with unexampled lucidity, the common origin of the conceptions which were formed by the human race, long before history as we know it, of the great mysteries which encompassed it. We also find in it some excellent and comprehensive tabulations in which occult knowledge is confronted by modern science and often seems, as we must admit, to outstrip or excel the latter. Many other things, too, we find in it, thrown together at random, but by no means deserving the contempt with which we have for some time professed to regard them.
However, it is not for me to write the history of theosophy, or to judge it. I have simply noted it in passing, since it is the penultimate form of occultism. It will suffice to add that the defects of its original method have been emphasized and aggravated by Madame Blavatzky's successors. With Mrs. Annie Besant a remarkable woman in other respects and with Leadbeater, everything is in the air; they build only in the clouds, and their gratuitous assertions, incapable of proof, seem to rain down thicker and thicker on every page. Moreover, they seem to be leading theosophy into the paths along which their early converts hesitate to follow them.
These defects are especially aggravated and revealed in all their ingenuousness by certain writers of the second ranks, less skilful than their masters in concealing them; for example, in the work of Scott-Elliot, the historian of "Atlantis" and "The Lost Lemuria." Scott-Elliot begins his history of Atlantis in the most rational and scientific manner. He refers to historical texts which scarcely permit us to doubt that a vast island, one of whose extremities lay not far from the Pillars of Hercules, sank into the ocean and was lost forever, carrying with it the wonderful civilization of which it was the home. He corroborates these texts by carefully chosen proofs derived from submarine orography, geology, chorography, the persistence of the Sargasso Sea, etc. Then suddenly, almost without warning, referring to occult documents, to charts drawn on baked clay and miraculously recovered, to revelations of unknown origin, and to astral negatives which he claims were obtained in despite of time and space, and discusses as though they were on the same footing as historical and geographical evidence, he describes for us, in all particulars, as though he were living in their midst, the cities, temples, and palaces of the Atlanteans and the whole of their political, moral, religious, and scientific civilization, including in his book a series of detailed maps of fabulous continents Hyperborean, Lemurian, etc. which disappeared 800,000 or 200,000 or 60,000 years ago, and are here outlined with as much minuteness and assurance as though the draftsman were dealing with the contemporary geography of Brittany or Normandy.
The head of an independent or dissident branch of theosophy, a scholar, a philosopher, and a most interesting visionary, of whom I have already spoken Rudolph Steiner, employs almost the same methods; but he does at least attempt to explain them and justify them.
Unlike the orthodox theosophists, he is by no means content with revealing, discussing, and interpreting the secret and sacred books of the Oriental tradition; he is able to find in himself all the truths contained in these books. "It is in the soul," he declares, "that the meaning of the universe is revealed." The secret of all things is within us, since everything is within us, and it is as much in us as it was in Christ. "The Logos, in unceasing evolution, in millions of human personalities, was diverted to and concentered by the Christian conception in the unique personality of Jesus. The divine energy dispersed throughout the world was gathered together in a single individual. According to this conception Jesus is the only man to become God. He takes upon himself the deification of all humanity. We seek in Him what we had previously sought in our own souls." 2
This search, too long interrupted by the symbol of Christ, must be resumed. This idea, quite defensible if we regard it as the search for the "transcendental ego," of which the subconsciousness of our metapsychists is merely the most accessible portion, becomes much more debatable in the developments which our author attributes to it. He professes to reveal to us the means of awakening, infallibly and almost mechanically, the God that slumbers within us. According to him, "the difference between the Oriental initiation and the Occidental lies in this, that the first is effected in the sleeping state and the second in the waking state. Consequently the separation of the etheric body from the physical body, always dangerous, is avoided." To obtain a state of trance which enables the initiate to communicate with higher worlds, or with all the worlds dispersed through space and time, and even with the divinity, he must, by means of spiritual exercises, methodically cultivate and develop certain organs of the astral body by which we see and hear, in men and in things, entities that never appear on the physical plane. The principles of these exercises, at least as regards their spiritual portions, are evidently borrowed from the immemorial practices of the Hindu Yoga, and in particular from the "Sutra of Patinjali." Thus Steiner tells us that the astral organ which is supposed to lie in the neighborhood of the larynx enables us to see the thoughts of other men and to throw a searching glance into the true laws of natural phenomena. Similarly an organ supposed to lie near the heart is said to be the instrument which serves to inform us of the mental states of others. Whosoever has developed this will be enabled to verify the existence of certain deep-seated energies in plants and animals. In the same way the sense supposed to have its seat in the pit of the stomach is said to perceive the faculties and talents of men and also to detect the part which animals, vegetables, stones, metals, and atmospheric phenomena play in the economy of nature. All this he explains minutely at great length, with all that relates to the development, training, and organization of the etheric body, and the vision of the Higher Self, in a volume entitled "Initiation, or the Knowledge of the Higher World." 3
When we read this dissertation on the state of trance, which is, by the way, a remarkable work from more than one point of view, we are tempted to ask whether the author has succeeded in avoiding the danger against which he warns his disciples: whether he has not found himself "in a world created in every detail by his own imagination." Moreover, I do not know whether experiment confirms his assertions. It is possible to test them. His methods are simple enough, and, unlike those of the Yoga, perfectly inoffensive. But the spiritual training must take place under the direction of a master, who is not always easy to find. In any case, it is permissible to conceive of a sort of "secondary state," possessing advantages over that of the hypnotic subject or the somnambulist or the medium, which would be productive of visions or intuitions very different from those afforded us by our senses or our intelligence in their normal state. As for knowing whether these visions or intuitions correspond with realities on another plane or in other worlds, this is a question which can be dealt with only by those who have experienced them. Most of the great mystics have had visions or intuitions of this kind spontaneously; but they do not possess any real interest unless it can be proved that they are experienced by mystics who are truly and absolutely illiterate. Such, it is maintained, were Jacob Boehme, the cobbler theosophist of Goerlitz, and Ruysbroeck l'Admirable, the old Flemish monk who lived in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. If their revelations really contain no unconscious reminiscences of what they have read, we find in them so many analogies with the teaching, which later become esoteric, of the great primitive religions, that we should be compelled to believe that at the very roots of humanity, or at its topmost height, this teaching exists, identical, latent, and unchangeable, corresponding with some objective and universal truth. We find, notably, in Ruysbroeck's "Ornament of the Spiritual Espousals," in his "Book of the Supreme Truth," and his "Book of the Kingdom of Lovers," whole pages which, if we suppress the Christian phraseology, might have been written by an anchorite of the early Brahmanic period or a Neoplatonist of Alexandria. On the other hand, the fundamental idea of Boehme's work is the Neoplatonic conception of an unconscious divinity, or a divine "nothingness," which gradually becomes conscious by objectifying itself and realizing its latent virtualities. But Boehme, as we have seen, was by no means an illiterate. As for Ruysbroeck, although his work is written in the Flemish patois which is still spoken by the peasantry of Brabant and Flanders, we must not forget that before he became a hermit in the forest of Soignes he had been a vicar in Brussels and had lived in the mystical atmosphere created, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, by Albert the Great, especially by his contemporaries, Johann Eckhart, whose mystical pantheism is analogous with that of the Alexandrian philosophers, and Jean Tauler, who, according to Surius, the translator and biographer of Ruysbroeck, visited the latter in his solitude at Groenendζl. Now, Jean Tauler likewise spoke of the union of the soul with the divine and the creation of God within the soul. It will therefore be evident that it is more than a little risky to assert that his visions were perfectly spontaneous.
As for Steiner, in his case the question does not arise. Before he found or thought to find in himself the esoteric truths which he revealed, he was perfectly familiar with all the literature of mysticism, so that his visions were provided merely by the ebb and flow of his conscious or subconscious memory. After all, he scarcely differs from the orthodox theosophists, except upon one point, which may appear more or less essential; instead of making, not Buddha, but Buddhas that is, a succession of revealers or intermediaries the centers of spiritual evolution, he attributes the leading part in this evolution to Christ, synthesizing in Him all the divinity distributed among men, thus making Him the supreme symbol of humanity seeking the God Who slumbers in its soul. This is a defensible opinion if we regard it, as he appears to do, from the allegorical standpoint, but it would be very difficult to maintain it from the historical point of view.
Steiner applied his intuitive methods, which amount to a species of transcendental psychometry, to reconstituting the history of Atlantis and revealing to us what is happening in the sun, the moon, and the other planets. He describes the successive transformations of the entities which will become men, and he does so with such assurance that we ask ourselves, having followed him with interest through preliminaries which denote an extremely well-balanced, logical, and comprehensive mind, whether he has suddenly gone mad, or if we are dealing with a hoaxer or with a genuine clairvoyant. Doubtfully we remind ourselves that the subconsciousness, which has already surprised us so often, may perhaps have in store for us yet further surprises which may be as fantastic as those of the Austrian theosophist; and, having learned prudence from experience, we refrain from condemning him without appeal.
When all is taken into account we realize once more, as we lay his works aside, what we realized after reading most of the other mystics; that what he calls "the great drama of the knowledge which the ancients used to perform and to live in their temples," of which the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, as of Osiris and Krishna, is only a symbolic interpretation, should rather be called the great drama of essential and invincible ignorance.
1 Stanislas de Guaita, La Clef de la Magic Noire; p. 119.
2 Rudolph Steiner. Le Mystire Chretien et let Mystires Antiques, Trans. Edouard Sehure; p. 228.
3 Rudolph Steiner, L 'Initiation, Trans. Jules Sauerwein; pp. 128 et seq.