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The Writings of Alfred Percy Sinnett

Alfred Percy Sinnett

1840 - 1921

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The Occult World


A P Sinnett

Chapter 2


The Theosophical Society



SECRET as the occult organization has always remained, there is a good deal more to be learned concerning the philosophical views which it has preserved or acquired, than might be supposed at the first glance. As my own experience when fully described will show, the great adepts of occultism themselves have no repugnance to the dissemination of their religions philosophy So far as a world untrained as ours is in pure psychological investigation can profit by such teaching. Nor even are they unconquerably averse to the occasional manifestation of those superior powers over the forces of Nature to which their extraordinary researches have led them. The many apparently miraculous phenomena which I have witnessed through occult agency could never have been exhibited if the general rule which precludes the Brothers from the exhibition of their powers to uninitiated persons were absolute.


As a general rule, indeed, the display of any occult phenomenon for the purpose of exciting the wonder and admiration of beholders is strictly forbidden. And indeed I should imagine that such prohibition is absolute if there is no higher purpose involved. But it is plain that with a purely philanthropic desire to spread the credit of a philosophical system which is ennobling in its character, the Brothers may sometimes wisely permit the display of abnormal phenomena when the minds to which such an appeal t is made may be likely to rise from the appreciation of the wonder to a befitting respect for the philosophy in which it accredits. And the history of the Theosophical Society has been an expansion of this idea. That history has been a chequered one, because the phenomena that have been displayed have often failed of their effect, have sometimes become the subject of a premature publicity, and have brought down on the study of occult philosophy as regarded from the point of view of the outer world, and on the devoted persons who have been chiefly identified with its encouragement by means of the Theosophical Society, a great deal of stupid ridicule and some malevolent persecution.


It may be asked why the Brothers, if they are really the great and all- powerful persons I represent them, have permitted indiscretions of the kind referred to, but the inquiry is not so embarrassing as it may seem at the first glance. If the picture of the Brothers that I have endeavoured to present to the reader has been appreciated rightly, it will show them less accurately qualified, in spite of their powers, than persons of lesser occult development, to carryon any under taking which involves direct relations with a multiplicity of ordinary people in the commonplace world. I gather the primary purpose of the Brotherhood to be something very unlike the task I am engaged in, for example, at this moment- the endeavour to convince the public generally that there really are faculties latent in humanity capable of such extraordinary development, that they carry us at a bound to an immense distance beyond the dreams of physical science in reference to the comprehension of Nature, and at the same time afford us positive testimony concerning the constitution and destinies of the human soul. That is a task on which it is reasonable to suppose the Brothers would cast a sympathetic glance, but it will be obvious on a moment's reflection, that their primary duty must be to keep alive the actuality of that knowledge, and of those powers concerning which I am merely giving some shadowy account. If the Brothers were to employ themselves on the large, rough business of hacking away at the incredulity of a stolid multitude, at the acrimonious incredulity of the materialistic phalanx, at the terrified and indignant incredulity of the orthodox religious world, it is conceivable that they might- propter vitam vivendi perdere causas- suffer the occult science itself to decay for the sake of persuading mankind that it did really exist. Of course it might be suggested that division of labour might be possible in occultism as in everything else, and that some adepts qualified for the work might be told off for the purpose of breaking down the incredulity of modern science, while the others would carry on the primary duties of their career in their own beloved seclusion. But a suggestion of this kind, however practical it may sound to a practical world, would probably present itself as eminently unpractical to the true mystic. To begin with, an aspirant for occult honours does not go through the tremendous and prolonged effort required to win him success, in order at the end of all things to embrace a life in the midst of the ordinary world, which on the hypothesis of his success in occultism must necessarily be repugnant to him in the extreme. Probably there is not one real adept who does not look with greater aversion and repugnance on any life except a life of seclusion, than we of the outer world would look on the notion of being buried alive in a remote mountain fastness where no foot or voice from the outer world could penetrate. I shall very soon be able to show that the love of seclusion, inherent in adeptship, does not imply a mind vacant of the knowledge of European culture and manners. It is, on the contrary, compatible with an amount of European culture and experience that people acquainted merely with the commonplace aspects of Eastern life will be surprised to find possible in the case of a man of Oriental birth.


Now, the imaginary adept told off of the suggestion I am examining, to show the scientific world that there are realms of knowledge it has not yet explored and faculties attainable to man that it has not yet dreamed of possessing, would have to be either appointed to discharge that duty, or to volunteer for it. In the one case we have to assume that the occult fraternity is despotic in its treatment of its members in a manner which all my observation leads me to believe it certainly is not; in the other, we have to suppose some adept making a voluntary sacrifice of what he regards as not only the most agreeable but also the higher life- for what? for the sake of accomplishing a task which he does not regard as of very great importance-relatively, at any rate, to that other task in which he may take a part--the perpetuation and perhaps the development of the great science itself. But I do not care to follow the argument any further, because it will come on for special treatment in a different way presently. Enough for the moment to indicate that there are considerations against the adoption of that method of persuasion which, as far as the judgment of ordinary people would go, would seem the best suited to the introduction of occult truths to modern intelligence.


And these considerations appear to have prompted the acceptance by the Brothers, of the Theosophical Society as a more or less imperfect, but still the best available agency for the performance of a piece of work, in which, without being actually prepared to enter on it themselves, they nevertheless take a cordial interest.


And what are the peculiar conditions which render the Theosophical Society, the organization and management of which have been faulty in many ways, the best agency hitherto available for the propagation of occult truths ? The zeal and qualifications of its founder, Madame Blavatsky, give the explanation required. It is obvious that to give any countenance or support at all to a society concerned with the promulgation of occult philosophy, it was necessary for the Brothers to be in occult communication with it in some way or other. For it must be remembered that though it may seem to us a very amazing and impossible thing to sit still at home and impress our thoughts upon the mind of a distant friend by an effort of will, a Brother living in an unknown Himalayan retreat is not only able to converse as freely as he likes with any of his friends who are initiates like himself, in whatever part of the world they may happen to be, but would find any other modes of communication, such as those with which the crawling faculties of the outer world have to be content, simply intolerable in their tedium and inefficacy. Besides, he must be able to afford assistance to any society having its sphere of operations among people in the world, be able to hear from it with the same facility that he can send communications to it. So there must be an initiate at the other end of the line Finally, the occult rules evidently require this last-named condition, or what amounts to the same thing, forbid arrangements which can only be avoided on this condition.


Now,  Madame Blavatsky is an initiate- is an adept to the extent of possessing this magnificent power of psychological telegraphy with her occult friends. That she has stopped short of that further development in adeptship that would have tided her right over the boundary between this and the occult world altogether, is the circumstance which has rendered her assumption of the task with which the Theosophical Society is concerned compatible with the considerations pointed out above as operating to prevent the assumption of such a duty by a full adept. .As regards the supremely essential characteristic, she has, in fact, been exactly suited to the emergency. How it came to pass that her occult training carried her as far as it did and no further, is a question into which it is fruitless to inquire, because the answer would manifestly entail explanations which would impinge too closely on the secrets of initiation which are never disclosed under any circumstances whatever. After all she is a woman, -though her powerful mind, widely if erratically cultivated, and perfectly dauntless courage proved among other ways on the battlefield, but more than by any bravery with bullets, by her occult initiation, renders the name, connoting what I it ordinarily does, rather absurd in application to her,-and this has, perhaps, barred her from the highest degrees in occultism that she might otherwise have attained. At all events, after a course of occult study carried on for seven years in a Himalayan retreat, and crowning a devotion to occult pursuits extending over five-and-thirty or forty years,  Madame Blavatsky reappeared in the world, dazed, as she met ordinary people going about in commonplace, benighted ignorance concerning the wonders of occult science, at the mere thought of the stupendous gulf of experience that separated her from them. She could hardly at first bear to associate with them, for thinking of all she knew that they did not know and that she was bound not to reveal. Any one can understand the burden of a great secret, but the burden of such a secret as occultism, and the burden of great powers only conferred on condition that their exercise should be very strictly circumscribed by rule, must have been trying indeed.


Circumstances --or to put the matter more plainly, the guidance of friends from whom, though she had left them behind in the Himalayas on her return to Europe, she was no longer in danger of separation, as we understand the term, induced her to visit America, and there, assisted by some other persons whose interest in the subject was kindled by occasional manifestations of her extraordinary powers, and notably by Colonel Olcott, its life- devoted President, she founded the Theosophical Society, the objects of which, as originally defined, were to explore the latent psychological powers of man, and the ancient Oriental literature in which the clue to these may be hidden, and in which the philosophy of occult science may be partly discovered.

The Society took root readily in America, while branches were also formed in England and elsewhere; but, leaving these to take care of themselves, Madame Blavatsky ultimately returned to India, to establish the Society there among the natives, from whose natural hereditary sympathies with mysticism it was reasonable to expect an ardent sympathy with a psychological enterprise which not only appealed to their intuitive belief in the reality of yog vidya, but also to their best patriotism, by exhibiting India as the fountainhead of the highest if the least known and the most secluded culture in the world.

Here, however, began the practical blunders in the management of the Theosophical Society which led to the incidents referred to above, as having given it, so far, a chequered career. Madame Blavatsky, to begin with, was wholly unfamiliar with the everyday side of Indian life, her previous visits having brought her only into contact with groups of people utterly unconnected with the current social system and characteristics of the country Nor could she have undertaken a worse preparation for Indian life than that supplied by a residence of some years in the United States. This sent her out to India unfurnished with the recommendations which she could readily have obtained, if she had spent the time just referred to in England, and left her unprovided with information it was highly important for her to possess concerning the true character of the British ruling classes of India and their relations with the people.


The consequence was that Mme. Blavatsky, on her first arrival in India, adopted an attitude of obtrusive sympathy with the natives of the soil as compared with the Europeans, seeking their society in a manner which, coupled with the fact that she made none of the usual advances to European society, and with her manifestly Russian name, had the effect not unnaturally of rendering her suspecte to the rather clumsy organization which in India attempts to combine with sundry others, the functions of a political police. These suspicions, it is true, were allayed almost as soon as they were conceived, but not before Madame Blavatsky had been made for a short time the object of an espionage so awkward that it became grossly obvious to herself and roused her indignation to fever heat. To a more phlegmatic nature the incident would have been little more than amusing, but all accidents combined to develop trouble. A Russian by birth, though naturalised in the United States, Madame Blavatsky is probably more sensitive than an English woman ,less experienced in political espionage would be to the insult involved in being taken for a spy. Then the inner consciousness of having, for enthusiasm in the purely intellectual or spiritual enterprise to which she had devoted her life, renounced the place in society to which her distinguished birth and family naturally entitled her, probably intensified the bitterness of her indignation, at finding the sacrifice not only unappreciated, but turned against her, and regarded as justifying a foul suspicion. At all events, the circumstances acting on an excitable temperament led her to make public protests which caused it to be widely known by natives as well as by Europeans, that she had been looked at askance by Government authorities. And this idea for a time impeded the success of her work. Nothing can be done in India without a European impulse in the beginning; at all events, it handicaps any enterprise frightfully to be without such an impulse if native co-operation is required.


Not that the Theosophical Society failed to get members. The natives were :flattered at the attitude towards them taken up by their new" European " friends, as Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott were no doubt generally regarded in spite of their American nationality, and showed a shallow eagerness to become Theosophists. But their ardour did not always prove durable, and in some few cases they showed a lamentable want of earnestness by breaking away from the Society altogether.

Meanwhile, Madame Blavatsky began to make friends amongst the Europeans, and in 1880 visited Simla, where she began late in the day to approach her work from the right direction. Again, however, some mistakes were made which have retarded the establishment of the Theosophical Society, as far as India is concerned, on the dignified footing that it ought to occupy. A great many wonderful phenomena were manifested in the presence at various times of a great many people; but proper safeguards were not taken to avert the great danger that must always attend such a method of recommending occult science to public notice. It is beyond dispute that phenomena, exhibited under thoroughly satisfactory conditions to persons intelligent enough to comprehend their significance, create an effect in awakening a thirst for the study of occult philosophy that no other appeal can produce. But it is equally true, though at the first glance this may not be so apparent, that to minds , quite unprepared by previous training to grasp the operation of occult forces, the most perfectly unimpeachable phenomenon will be received rather as an insult to the understanding than as a proof of the operation of occult power. This is especially the case with persons of merely average intelligence, of whose faculties cannot stand the shock of a sudden appeal to an entirely new set of ideas. The strain is too great; the new chain of reasoning breaks, and the commonplace observer of abnormal occurrences reverts to his original frame of stolid incredulity, perfectly unaware of the fact that a revelation of priceless intellectual importance has been offered to him and has been misunderstood.


Nothing is commoner than to hear people say: " I can't believe in the reality of a phenomenal occurrence unless I see it for myself. Show it me and I shall believe in it, but not till then." Many people who say this are quite mistaken as to what they would believe if the occurrence were shown to them. I have over and over again seen phenomena of an absolutely genuine nature pass before the eyes of people unused to investigating occurrences of the kind, and leave no impression behind beyond an irritated conviction that they were somehow being taken in. Just this happened in some conspicuous instances at Simla, and it is needless to say that many as were the phenomena that Madame Blavatsky produced, or was instrumental in producing, during the visit to which I am referring, the number of people in the place who had no opportunity of seeing them was considerably greater than that of the witnesses. And for these, as a rule, the whole series of incidents presented itself simply as an imposition. It was nothing to the purpose for the holders of this theory that there was a glaring absence from the whole business of any motive for imposture, that a considerable group of persons whose testimony and capacity would never have been impugned had any other matter been under discussion, were emphatic in their declarations as to the complete reality of the phenomena that had been displayed. The commonplace mind could not assimilate the idea that it was face to face with a new revelation in Nature, and any hypothesis, no matter how absurd and illogical in its details, was preferable for the majority to the simple grandeur of the truth.


On the whole, therefore, as Madame Blavatsky became a celebrity in India, her relations with European society were intensified. She made many friends, and secured some ardent converts to a belief in the reality of occult powers ; but she became the innocent object of bitter animosity on the part of some other acquaintances, who, unable to assimilate what they saw in her presence, took up all attitude of disbelief, which deepened into positive enmity as the whole subject became enveloped in a cloud of more or less excited controversy.


And it is needless to say that many of the newspapers made great capital out of the whole situation ridiculing Madame Blavatsky's dupes, and twisting every bit of information that came out about her phenomena into the most ludicrous shape it could be made to assume. Mockery of that sort was naturally expected by English friends who avowed their belief in the reality of Madame Blavatsky's powers, and probably never gave one of them a moment's serious annoyance. But for the oversensitive and excitable person chiefly concerned they were indescribably tormenting, and eventually it grew doubtful whether her patience would stand the strain put upon it; whether she would not relinquish altogether the ungrateful task of inducing the world at large to accept the good gifts ,which she had devoted her life to offering them. Happily, so far, no catastrophe has ensued ; but no history of Columbus in chains for discovering a new world, or Galileo in prison for announcing the true principles of astronomy, is more remarkable for those who know all the bearings of the situation in India, as regards the Theosophical Society, than the sight of Madame Blavatsky, slandered and ridiculed by most of the Anglo-Indian papers, and spoken of as a charlatan by the commonplace crowd, in return for having freely offered them some of the wonderful fruits- as much as the rules of the great occult association permit her to offer-of the lifelong struggle in which she has conquered her extraordinary knowledge.


In spite of all this, meanwhile, the Theosophical Society remains the one organization which supplies to inquirers who thirst for occult knowledge a link of communication, however slight, with the great fraternity in the background which takes an interest in its progress, and is accessible to its founder.



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