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Feb 26, 1996 07:10 PM
Text supplied by Eldon Tucker
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The Difference Between Theosophy and Spiritualism
Q. But do you not believe in Spiritualism?
A. If by "Spiritualism" you mean the explanation which
Spiritualists give of some abnormal phenomena, then decidedly we do not.
They maintain that these manifestations are all produced by the
"spirits" of departed mortals, generally their relatives, who return to
earth, they say, to communicate with those they have loved or to whom
they are attached. We deny this point blank. We assert that the spirits
of the dead cannot return to earth, save in rare and exceptional cases,
of which I may speak later; nor do they communicate with men except by
entirely subjective means. That which does appear objectively, is only
the phantom of the ex-physical man. But in psychic, and so to say,
"Spiritual" Spiritualism, we do believe, most decidedly.
Q. Do you reject the phenomena also?
A. Assuredly not, save cases of conscious fraud.
Q. How do you account for them, then?
A. In many ways. The causes of such manifestations are by no means
so simple as the Spiritualists would like to believe. Foremost of all,
the deus ex machina of the so-called "materializations" is usually the
astral body or "double" of the medium or of someone present. This astral
body is also the producer or operating force in the manifestations of
slate-writing, "Davenport"-like manifestations, and so on.
Q. You say usually, then what is it that produces the rest?
A. That depends on the nature of the manifestations. Sometimes the
astral remains, the Kamalokic "shells" of the vanished personalities
that were; at other times, Elementals. Spirit is a word of manifold and
wide significance. I really do not know what Spiritualists mean by the
term; but what we understand them to claim is that the physical
phenomena are produced by the reincarnating Ego, the Spiritual and
immortal "individuality." And this hypothesis we entirely reject. The
Conscious Individuality of the disembodied cannot materialize, nor can
it return from its own mental Devachanic sphere to the plane of
Q. But many of the communications received from the "spirits" show
not only intelligence, but a knowledge of facts not known to the medium,
and sometimes even not consciously present to the mind of the
investigator, or any of those who compose the audience.
A. This does not necessarily prove that the intelligence and
knowledge you speak of belong to spirits, or emanate from disembodied
souls. Somnambulists have been known to compose music and poetry and to
solve mathematical problems while in their trance state, without having
ever learnt music or mathematics. Others, answered intelligently to
questions put to them, and even, in several cases, spoke languages, such
as Hebrew and Latin, of which they were entirely ignorant when awake,
all this in a state of profound sleep. Will you, then, maintain that
this was caused by "spirits"?
Q. But how would you explain it?
A. We assert that the divine spark in man being one and identical
in its essence with the Universal Spirit, our "spiritual Self" is
practically omniscient, but that it cannot manifest its knowledge owing
to the impediments of matter. Now the more these impediments are
removed, in other words, the more the physical body is paralysed, as to
its own independent activity and consciousness, as in deep sleep or deep
trance, or, again, in illness, the more fully can the inner Self
manifest on this plane. This is our explanation of those truly wonderful
phenomena of a higher order, in which undeniable intelligence and
knowledge are exhibited. As to the lower order of manifestations, such
as physical phenomena and the platitudes and common talk of the general
"spirit," to explain even the most important of the teachings we hold
upon the subject would take up more space and time than can be allotted
to it at present. We have no desire to interfere with the belief of the
Spiritualists any more than with any other belief. The responsibility
must fall on the believers in "spirits." And at the present moment,
while still convinced that the higher sort of manifestations occur
through the disembodied souls, their leaders and the most learned and
intelligent among the Spiritualists are the first to confess that not
all the phenomena are produced by spirits. Gradually they will come to
recognize the whole truth; but meanwhile we have no right nor desire to
proselytize them to our views. The less so, as in the cases of purely
psychic and spiritual manifestations we believe in the
intercommunication of the spirit of the living man with that of
We say that in such cases it is not the spirits of the dead who descend
on earth, but the spirits of the living that ascend to the pure
spiritual Souls. In truth there is neither ascending nor descending, but
a change of state or condition for the medium. The body of the latter
becoming paralyzed, or "entranced," the spiritual Ego is free from its
trammels, and finds itself on the same plane of consciousness with the
disembodied spirits. Hence, if there is any spiritual attraction between
the two they can communicate, as often occurs in dreams. The difference
between a mediumistic and a non-sensitive nature is this: the liberated
spirit of a medium has the opportunity and facility of influencing the
passive organs of its entranced physical body, to make them act, speak,
and write at its will. The EGO can make it repeat, echo-like, and in the
human language, the thoughts and ideas of the disembodied entity, as
well as its own. But the non-receptive or non-sensitive organism of one
who is very positive cannot be so influenced. Hence, although there is
hardly a human being whose Ego does not hold free intercourse, during
the sleep of his body, with those whom it loved and lost, yet, on
account of the positiveness and non-receptivity of its physical envelope
and brain, no recollection, or a very dim, dream-like remembrance,
lingers in the memory of the person once awake.
Q. This means that you reject the philosophy of Spiritualism in
A. If by "philosophy" you mean their crude theories, we do. But
they have no philosophy, in truth. Their best, their most intellectual
and earnest defenders say so. Their fundamental and only unimpeachable
truth, namely, that phenomena occur through mediums controlled by
invisible forces and intelligences, no one, except a blind materialist
of the "Huxley big toe" school, will or can deny. With regard to their
philosophy, however, let me read to you what the able editor of Light,
than whom the Spiritualists will find no wiser nor more devoted
champion, says of them and their philosophy.
This is what "M.A. Oxon," one of the very few philosophical
Spiritualists, writes, with respect to their lack of organization and
It is worthwhile to look steadily at this point, for it is of
vital moment. We have an experience and a knowledge beside which all
other knowledge is comparatively insignificant. The ordinary
Spiritualist waxes wroth if anyone ventures to impugn his assured
knowledge of the future and his absolute certainty of the life to come.
Where other men have stretched forth feeble hands groping into the dark
future, he walks boldly as one who has a chart and knows his way. Where
other men have stopped short at a pious aspiration or have been content
with a hereditary faith, it is his boast that he knows what they only
believe, and that out of his rich stores he can supplement the fading
faiths built only upon hope. He is magnificent in his dealings with
man's most cherished expectations. He seems to say:
You hope for that which I can demonstrate. You have
accepted a traditional belief in what I can experimentally prove
according to the strictest scientific method. The old beliefs are
fading; come out from them and be separate. They contain as much
falsehood as truth. Only by building on a sure foundation of
demonstrated fact can your superstructure be stable. All round you old
faiths are toppling. Avoid the crash and get you out.
When one comes to deal with this magnificent person in a practical way,
what is the result? Very curious and very disappointing. He is so sure
of his ground that he takes no trouble to ascertain the interpretation
which others put upon his facts. The wisdom of the ages has concerned
itself with the explanation of what he rightly regards as proven; but he
does not turn a passing glance on its researches. He does not even agree
altogether with his brother Spiritualist. It is the story over again of
the old Scotch body who, together with her husband, formed a "kirk."
They had exclusive keys to Heaven, or, rather, she had, for she was "na
certain aboot Jamie." So the infinitely divided and subdivided and re-
subdivided sects of Spiritualists shake their heads, and are "na certain
aboot" one another. Again, the collective experience of mankind is solid
and unvarying on this point that union is strength, and disunion a
source of weakness and failure. Shoulder to shoulder, drilled and
disciplined, a rabble becomes an army, each man a match for a hundred of
the untrained men that may be brought against it. Organization in every
department of man's work means success, saving of time and labour,
profit and development. Want of method, want of plan, haphazard work,
fitful energy, undisciplined effort, these mean bungling failure. The
voice of humanity attests the truth. Does the Spiritualist accept the
verdict and act on the conclusion? Verily, no. He refuses to organize.
He is a law unto himself, and a thorn in the side of his neighbors.
Q. I was told that the Theosophical Society was originally founded
to crush Spiritualism and belief in the survival of the individuality in
A. You are misinformed. Our beliefs are all founded on that
immortal individuality. But then, like so many others, you confuse
personality with individuality. Your Western psychologists do not seem
to have established any clear distinction between the two. Yet it is
precisely that difference which gives the keynote to the understanding
of Eastern philosophy, and which lies at the root of the divergence
between the Theosophical and Spiritualistic teachings. And though it may
draw upon us still more the hostility of some Spiritualists, yet I must
state here that it is Theosophy which is the true and unalloyed
Spiritualism, while the modern scheme of that name is, as now practiced
by the masses, simply transcendental materialism.
Q. Please explain your idea more clearly.
A. What I mean is that though our teachings insist upon the
identity of spirit and matter, and though we say that spirit is
potential matter, and matter simply crystallized spirit (e.g., as ice is
solidified steam), yet since the original and eternal condition of all
is not spirit but meta-spirit, so to speak, we maintain that the term
spirit can only be applied to the true individuality.
Q. But what is the distinction between this "true individuality"
and the "I" or "Ego" of which we are all conscious?
A. Before I can answer you, we must argue upon what you mean by "I"
or "Ego." We distinguish between the simple fact of self-consciousness,
the simple feeling that "I am I," and the complex thought that "I am Mr.
Smith" or "Mrs. Brown." Believing as we do in a series of births for the
same Ego, or reincarnation, this distinction is the fundamental pivot of
the whole idea. You see "Mr. Smith" really means a long series of daily
experiences strung together by the thread of memory, and forming what
Mr. Smith calls "himself." But none of these "experiences" are really
the "I" or the Ego, nor do they give "Mr. Smith" the feeling that he is
himself, for he forgets the greater part of his daily experiences, and
they produce the feeling of Egoity in him only while they last. We
Theosophists, therefore, distinguish between this bundle of
"experiences," which we call the false (because so finite and
evanescent) personality, and that element in man to which the feeling of
"I am I" is due. It is this "I am I" which we call the true
individuality; and we say that this "Ego" or individuality plays, like
an actor, many parts on the stage of life. Let us call every new life on
earth of the same Ego a night on the stage of a theater. One night the
actor, or "Ego," appears as "Macbeth," the next as "Shylock," the third
as "Romeo," the fourth as "Hamlet" or "King Lear," and so on, until he
has run through the whole cycle of incarnations. The Ego begins his
life-pilgrimage as a sprite, an "Ariel," or a "Puck"; he plays the part
of a super, is a soldier, a servant, one of the chorus; rises then to
"speaking parts," plays leading roles, interspersed with insignificant
parts, till he finally retires from the stage as "Prospero," the
Q. I understand. You say, then, that this true Ego cannot return to
earth after death. But surely the actor is at liberty, if he has
preserved the sense of his individuality, to return if he likes to the
scene of his former actions?
A. We say not, simply because such a return to earth would be
incompatible with any state of unalloyed bliss after death, as I am
prepared to prove. We say that man suffers so much unmerited misery
during his life, through the fault of others with whom he is associated,
or because of his environment, that he is surely entitled to perfect
rest and quiet, if not bliss, before taking up again the burden of life.
However, we can discuss this in detail later.
Editorial note : below are some footnotes from the original file,
which I hope readers can relate to the text - I do not have a copy of
the book, only the disk supplied by Eldon. AB.
[An artificial or improbable device to resolve a difficulty.]
Light, June 22, 1889
Visible and solid matter being simply its periodical manifestation.
See below, "On Individuality and Personality," 124.
Ancient Wisdom for a New Age
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Dedicated to the Theosophical Philosophy and its Practical Application