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Feb 27, 1996 03:33 PM
by Alan


In view of recent discussions on theos-l, it seems useful to
post this file out of sequence.  It is being posted to both
theos-l and theos-roots - apologies to anyone inconvenienced by
the double download of an important text - A.B.

 From ~The Key to Theosophy~, first published 1889:

The Legal Status of the Theosophical Society

The following Official Report, on which was granted a Decree of
Incorporation to the St. Louis Theosophical Society, is an
important document, as putting on record the view taken of the
Theosophical Society,after a careful examination of witnesses on
oath,by an American Court of Law.

1. The petitioner is not a religious body. I report this
negative finding for the reason that the word Theosophical
contained in petitioners' name conveys a possible religious
implication. The statutory phrase "society formed for religious
purposes" applies, I suppose, only to an organization formed in
part for worship, worship being an individual act involving
adoration and perhaps emotional power, both being of necessity
individual acts, or else to an organization formed for a
propagation of a religious faith. Merely to teach a religion as
one may teach algebra, is not, I think, a religious work, as the
word religious is used in the Statute and the Constitution. A
man may occupy a collegiate chair of Professor of Religions and
as such teach the tenets of many religions. These different
religions being variant and antagonistic, the Professor could
not by any possibility worship under all. Nay, he might even be
irreligious. Hence, merely teaching religions is not a religious
work in the statutory sense. It will be noted that in article
two of this society's constitution, the word religion is used in
the plural. To teach religions is educational, not religious.
"To promote the study of religions" is in part to promote the
study of the history of man. I add the subordinate finding that
the society has no religious creed and practices no worship.

2. The petitioner proposes to promote the study of literature
and sciences. These objects are expressly within the terms of
the Statute.

3. Cognate with the last objects is that of investigating
"unexplained laws of nature and psychical powers latent in man."
These two phrases, taken in their apparent meaning, are
unobjectionable. But there is reason to believe that they form a
meaning other than the apparent one.

The court will take notice of the commonly accepted meaning of
the word Theosophy. Though I am ignorant of Theosophy, I think
it is supposed to include among other things manifestations and
phenomena, physical and psychical, that are violations of the
laws now known by physicists and metaphysicians, and perhaps not
explained or claimed to be explained or understood even by
Theosophists themselves. In this group may be included
Spiritualism, mesmerism, clairvoyance, mind-healing,
mind-reading and the like. I took testimony on this question,
and found that while a belief in any one of these sorts of
manifestations and phenomena is not required, while each member
of the society is at liberty to hold his own opinion, yet such
questions form topics of inquiry and discussion, and the members
as a mass probably believers individually in phenomena that are
abnormal and in powers that are superhuman as far as science now
knows. It is undoubtedly the right of any citizen to hold
whatever opinions he pleases on these subjects, and to endeavor
at his pleasure to investigate the unexplained and to display
the latent. But the question here is: Shall the Court grant a
franchise in aid of such endeavor? Voodooism is a word applied
to the practices of guileful men among the ignorant and
superstitious who inflict impostures upon guileless men among
the ignorant and superstitious. No Court would grant a franchise
in furtherance of such practices. The Court then will stop to
inquire into the practices and perhaps the reputation of the
enterprise which seeks judicial aid. I am not meaning to make a
comparison between voodooism and this group of phenomena which
for convenience (though I know not whether accurately) I will
call occultism. I only take voodooism as a strong case to show
the Court ought to inquire. If we now inquire into occultism we
shall find that it has been occasionally used, as is reported,
for the purposes of imposture. But this goes for nothing against
its essential character. Always and everywhere bad men will make
a bad use of anything for selfish ends. The object of this
society, whether attainable or not, is undeniably laudable,
assuming that there are physical and psychical phenomena
unexplained, and that Theosophy seeks to explain them. Assuming
that there are human powers yet latent, it seeks to discover
them. It may be that absurdities and impostures are in fact
incident to the nascent stage of its development. As to an
understanding like that of occultism, which asserts powers
commonly thought superhuman, and phenomena commonly thought
supernatural, it seemed to me that the Court, though not
assuming to determine judicially the question of their verity,
would, before granting to occultism a franchise, inquire whether
at least it had gained the position of being reputable or
whether its adherents were merely men of narrow intelligence,
mean intellect, and omnivorous credulity. I accordingly took
testimony on that point, and find that a number of gentlemen in
different countries of Europe, and also in this country, eminent
in science, are believers in occultism. Sir Edward Bulwer
Lytton, a writer of large and varied learning, and of solid
intellect, is asserted to have been an occultist, an assertion
countenanced by at least two of his books. The late President
Wayland, of Brown University, writing of abnormal mental
operations as shown in clairvoyance, says:

The subject seems to me well worthy of the most searching and
candid examination. It is by no means deserving of ridicule, but
demands the attention of the most philosophical inquiry.  Sir
William Hamilton, probably the most acute and, undeniably, the
most learned of English metaphysicians that ever lived, said at
least thirty years ago:

However astonishing, it is now proved beyond all rational doubt
that in certain abnormal states of the nervous organism
perceptions are possible through other than the ordinary
channels of the senses.

By such testimony Theosophy is at least placed on the footing of
respectability. Whether by further labor it can make partial
truths complete truths, whether it can eliminate extravagances
and purge itself of impurities, if there are any, are probably
questions upon which the Court will not feel called upon to
pass. I perceive no other feature of the petitioners'
constitution that is obnoxious to legal objection, and
accordingly I have the honor to report that I show no cause why
the prayer of the petitioners should not be granted.


Ancient Wisdom for a New Age

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