The Hill of Discernment

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The Hill of Discernment

By Alfred Trevor Barker

Psychic Phenomena

Friends: You heard tonight that the Theosophical Movement, of which this Society is an integral part, is an ethical and spiritual one; that it has existed all down the ages; and also that it has nothing but a feeling of friendliness, a feeling of brotherhood and fraternal sympathy, for all movements that strive according to their own methods and ways for the elevation, even to the smallest extent, of humanity. Therefore I want to say right at the beginning to those of our Spiritualistic brothers — some of them I see here tonight — who may or may not have come in contact with Theosophical teachings before: I want to say to them that we have much sympathy for them; but that we have furthermore the feeling that for them Theosophy has a very real message — something of vital importance to them as individuals.

The first object of this Theosophical Society is to promulgate a knowledge of the laws inherent in the Universe. That means, of course, a statement of that knowledge of the inner constituents of Nature and man which exists in the keeping and in the knowledge of those who are called the Elect among mankind, those who have always preserved it, and who from time to time come to restate it in language comprehensible to the age in which it is particularly given. This being one of our main purposes, we have to study the problem of psychic phenomena in the light of that Ancient Teaching.

Psychic phenomena have always existed, and the fact that they play a very large part in the lives of an increasing number among an interested public means that the teachings that Theosophy has to give on this subject should fill some vital need in that public. One of the first statements is that there is no such thing as miracle; that that which looks to us like a marvelous and extraordinary and otherwise inexplicable happening or phenomenon is actually explainable in terms, if not of the physical Universe, then of the unseen and occult Universe, provided that you understand the laws involved. But many of the phenomena that we know of, from the New Testament down to our own age, especially those that are the constant happenings in Spiritualistic circles, do arouse in very many people a sense of wonder, if not of awe, and, friends, even of reverence for the powers which produce these mysterious phenomena. If we understand this, the great element of wonder is largely reduced as we look at the problems sincerely and say: "Well, now, there must be an explanation of this phenomenon." The Universe is a Universe of Law. Things do not happen fortuitously; and if we do not understand them, well then, the Theosophical Society provides another object amongst those which you have heard tonight, whereby in studying the laws and the powers innate in man we seek by an unfolding of those powers to understand what those hidden forces and hidden laws may be.

According to the Theosophical philosophy the Universe is guided, the Universe is evolved, under the direction of conscious and intelligent beings. The teaching is that every part of boundless Space is instinct with the life of the One Great Reality, the Great Breath of all existence, which pulses eternally throughout the heart of things, and throughout every living creature. Every one of the forces of Nature is actually the expression of the life-force of some group of beings that inhabit the inner spheres of Nature. The fact that we cannot see them matters not at all. That man is not the only conscious thinking being in this Universe does not need a great deal of substantiation possibly; but the Theosophical teaching is that beyond man, in an endless series of progression, are rank after rank, hierarchy after hierarchy, of still more exalted beings. Descending also in a progressive scale into the depths of matter, you get different types of entities even lower than man, who still act as some of the unseen but intelligent agents and forces of Nature.

Man himself is built upon the same plan as Nature. Just as Nature is not only the external appearance that we all see in all its phases — some beautiful, some terrible — so also has man within himself a thinking, conscious, intelligent, directing influence: that which we call Soul in man — the real man as apart from his body. Man is not made up of merely that which we see. We have only to look inside ourselves to observe that we are made up, for example, of emotions, of passions, of thoughts, of a more or less material nature. Understand that to be the constitution of what you might call the animal-soul in man. Then you have what we call the Human Soul — that which makes a man a human being. It is in the Human Soul that repose the capacities of man to think, to know himself as a god. It is in that capacity that he is distinguished from the beast creation. Over and above those three principles — if you will and like to look upon them as such — you will find a fourth: that over-brooding and Divine immortal principle in man, with which it is possible for the Human Soul to identify itself.

With that fourfold division you have sufficient for our evening's study as regards man, and you will find that the great community of the Spiritualistic movement do believe (I think I am right in saying this) that the inner realms of the Universe are guided by unseen and intelligent forces. It is that really which gives them the right to be termed 'Spiritualists' in contradistinction to that other section of the community (which happily is far less strong than it used to be in the early days of the last century, or shall we say in the middle of the last century?) the Materialists. Really the two words are the opposite of each other: one believes in the spiritual, energizing principles in Nature that we do not see but believe in, so to speak, if we cannot observe them. The other believes there is nothing beyond that which we can see and feel and touch.

The second great — shall we say belief ? — that distinguishes those who come under the category of Spiritualists from other thinking people, is the belief or conviction that it is possible to communicate, or have communication, between the living such as ourselves, and those who have passed over into the Great Beyond. It is their belief; and therefore arising out of that you get their own activities, which result in what we call 'psychic phenomena.' You have only to examine the daily newspapers towards the week-end, principally the Sunday papers, to discover that even in one city like London there is a great, a large, body of people who call themselves the Spiritualistic Community. There are a tremendous number of them. It is estimated that there are something like twenty million in all the world, and I should think that is probably a conservative estimate. There are twenty million people who to some extent believe in the possibility of communication with the dead, and who no doubt practise the various methods which they believe in to that end.

There is an enormous variety, an almost endless variety, of psychic phenomena that could be described and discussed; but so vast is the field that it would take not one lecture but many, many volumes — days and weeks of time — to describe all the possibilities of variety in psychic phenomena. They are indeed endless, and therefore tonight we shall have quite enough to do to examine that sphere or field of psychic phenomena which is possible for us all to examine somewhat; and I refer therefore principally to the field which has been brought to the notice of the world through the activities of these same Spiritualistic communities. That is the subject which we want to consider for a little while; and we want to understand, if we can, in the light of the Ancient Teachings, what is the real nature of these phenomena. We want to see whether the interpretation that is usually put upon them can possibly give place to a better interpretation — to a different one, if you will — and so let us consider really what is the purpose and the possible use of psychism and psychic phenomena today.

I will tell you that from the Theosophical point of view they have two possible uses, both of which are somewhat qualified by results. But two things this interest in phenomena has done. One is that many people have become convinced — as we think, on quite insufficient evidence, but nevertheless convinced, in themselves — that the survival of man's individuality, his Soul (call it what you will) is a fact. Now for those people no doubt it is useful if it has, as it were, raised their thoughts at any rate to the extent of believing or discovering that the material existence is not the only one. Probably that is the best that can be said of psychic phenomena. It is the object with which most people investigate, and I think that many Spiritualistic communities would tell you that their main purpose in carrying on their meetings and activities, is to give a demonstration, as they call it, of the facts of survival. Then you have a corollary of that, which is that many people who have lost those that are dear to them have sought comfort, if they were able to find it, in the revelations of the seance-room; and we are told on excellent authority that these people have felt comfort, that they have derived a great deal of satisfaction from the various messages and supposed communications that they have received from those who have passed on.

That is one aspect of it, and we want to go rather more deeply into these questions, and examine them, and discover their real nature, and to see whether in reality these people have received something by means of those psychic experiments which has led to nobler living; which has taught them, as they used to say, to die grandly; which has given them a philosophy of life that embraces the whole of Nature, leaving out no part of it; which has given them a strength for their inner spiritual needs that can only be regarded as the Bread of Life. Now we want to see. I mentioned those few words simply because if those experiments do not bring that result, well then, really, they are empty shells, husks, which do not feed the inner Spiritual Being in man at all.

Therefore let us first of all examine what is the nature of mediumship. There are no psychic phenomena, as we understand the term today, without mediums, and you will find the principal characteristic of mediums is that they make no bones about the fact that they have a peculiar, abnormal, and unusual faculty of, shall we say stepping aside, paralysing their mechanism of consciousness, their body and normal faculties, and that they are then taken possession of, or controlled by, some force or entity outside themselves. They speak of this familiarly as their 'guide' or their 'control.' This for them is a fact of considerable importance, and they consider that by the mere fact that they are being controlled and guided by this mysterious unseen entity, therefore the results of that activity will be more useful to their fellows than if they were doing it in some way by their own conscious direction. A medium, in other words, is a passive instrument of forces which control and guide him.

That is the definition of mediumship, and I want to show you for just a minute (I believe you will agree with me) how it is a misunderstanding of a very wonderful truth in Nature. There is always a light and a dark side to everything. If you see one side of a medal you can also see the other side. The medium has got something in his idea. He has got the notion that if he steps aside, so to speak, and lets something motivate and activate through him, he is going to be useful in some way.

Let us turn to what we Theosophists call the Light, the Wisdom-side of that picture, and what do we find? We find that the definition of the Adept in Arcane Knowledge is as different from the definition of a medium as light is from darkness. The Adept in Arcane Wisdom is one who is able, by the self-conscious powers of his own spirit, to do under the direction and control of his own will every single one of the phenomena — and an infinitely greater series — that the mediums do unconsciously to themselves. He knows how he does it and why he does it; he merely makes use of certain occult laws in Nature with which he has learned to cooperate by the understanding of the powers of his own being.

Take another further development of that idea, and you will find that those Adepts of Knowledge work in the world by means of certain disciples — if you like to use the term — certain individuals who are connected with them, under their instruction, and who at certain times are able to transmit to their fellows ideas of spiritual value. Possibly, if one had had a great acquaintance with Spiritualistic views and teachings, it might be thought when such Adepts in knowledge work through one of those individuals in the world who are their disciples, that they do it in a similar way to the medium and his guide or control; but, friends, it is not so; and this is where I am going to suggest to you that there is, so to speak, a shadow of truth in the idea that has perhaps given rise to the idea of the value of mediumship.

Actually a great Master of Wisdom will not permit himself to interfere with the conscious control of any individual who may be under his instruction. On the contrary, when such an individual is performing a task under the direction of a Master of Wisdom, what happens? Why, the inner spiritual nature of the disciple is so energized that the actual connexion between the inner spiritual real man and the body he works through is ten times, a hundredfold, stronger than in the ordinary man and woman of the world. Adeptship is in every way the opposite of mediumship. Such an individual is ten times more positive and non-mediumistic than his psychic brother. What he is taught is not to get out of his body, if he can, and give it up to some extraneous entity. On the contrary, he is taught to forget himself in the service of the race to which he belongs; and as he lays aside the personal idea of himself and raises his consciousness to the realization that the Great Soul — the Great World-Soul as it is called in this philosophy — is actually that of which he himself is an integral part; as he begins to manifest in his daily life the powers of that infinite Universe by forgetting himself, why! as he forgets himself, all power and knowledge and the infinite love and wisdom and compassion that lie at the heart of Nature itself, because of his self-forgetfulness, begin to manifest through him.

Do you see what a different picture it is; how entirely different that conception is from the idea of the medium who is negative and who allows some other entity to disinherit him of his divine potentialities?

What is it that those Ancient Teachers of the race have to say upon this whole question of psychic phenomena? We said that we should have to limit ourselves this evening to a very brief consideration of the phenomena attending a Spiritualistic seance; and in order to understand the problem I want, by a series of comparisons if possible, to make the Ancient Teaching clear to you simply for your consideration, to show which is more reasonable. Every psychic phenomenon that I have ever heard of is certainly susceptible of two explanations: one according to the accepted Spiritualistic theories, and the other the teaching of the Arcane Knowledge upon that particular fact in Nature. And get this one point clear: that no Theosophist, no occultist, no mystic, would ever deny the facts of Spiritualistic phenomena. He knows for a certainty that they happen, that they do exist.

You can go to the Queen's Hall, to the Grotrian Hall, you can go to a dozen places this very evening, and see demonstrations of these psychical happenings; and, now, in order to understand the comparisons which will be drawn, in a few moments let us very briefly consider what happens to man after the death of his physical body; because after all, friends, it all turns upon that.

If there is any reliable source of information to which we can go to find out what actually is the Law of Nature operating at the time of the death of the physical body, we can learn a lot and save ourselves a great number of mistakes; we can save our feet from wandering from the spiritual path altogether; and that teaching very briefly is this: in the case of the average normal individual who lives an ordinary, everyday life — neither very good nor very bad — such an individual comes to the natural term of his life say around about sixty or seventy years of age, and passes on. The body dies, and immediately the body, the framework upon which it was built, and the life which energized it, begin to fall to pieces. The body is either burnt under cremation, or it goes into the grave and begins to disintegrate. So much for the body.

Do you remember that a little earlier this evening it was mentioned that man consists not only of that body, but also of his emotional and passional nature, his lower thoughts and desires? Everybody has that constitution to a greater or less degree. Then you have the higher thoughts, the higher spiritual emotions and aspirations that go to make man what he is as a human being with a human soul: and over and above you have the immortal brooding Spirit. It is the human being in the man, the thinker, the conscious entity that we all love, that we have affection and reverence for. I think that you will all agree with me that it is not the animal part of our friend that we have any affection for. We say to ourselves, "Well, we are all human," and we just accept that as a necessary evil; but it is really the truly human-divine qualities which show through the outer casing that go to make up what we love in any human being; and therefore it will come as no shock to us at all when we realize that the animal nature is destined to immediate disintegration after the close of the earth-life.

As long as life persisted, the emotions, the passions, the lower thoughts, were all in a state of constant flux; but directly the life is closed, that inner, real man falls into a state of unconsciousness. Gradually that human soul is separated from its animal nature, and directly that separation is complete, the individual begins to regain his consciousness and wakes up to the ineffable bliss of that spiritual world wherein he will reap fruition of all those causes of a spiritual kind that he generated in the life that has just closed. Take that as a broad idea for the general run of humanity. There are certain exceptions, and we cannot touch upon them more than to say that the exceptions concern those who have been shot forth from this life as a result of accident, suicide, murder, or something of that kind — anything which cuts short the life so that there is a premature death. Then the individuals concerned go into the Great Beyond in a state that is not really death. They retain their consciousness in a way that the average individual does not.

Now think just for a moment: you have that inner, real man in the ineffable bliss of that heaven which in the language of the Ancient Knowledge is spoken of as Devachan; you have in the region of what the Roman Catholics call Purgatory (the region of Kama-loka as they call it in the East) the material remnants of the being that was, disintegrating, but still for a considerable period hanging together — remnants or characteristics of the material man that was, in life. This is a tremendously important thing to remember, because in terms of the gross living of the departed entity will be the persistence and longevity of the remnants of his material life in the shape of his passions, his desires and his lower thoughts.

Let us turn to an examination, very briefly, of the phenomena that take place at the Spiritualistic seances. You get a tremendous number of supposed messages from the individuals whom you have known who have departed this life. According to the Ancient Teaching it is quite impossible for a normal average human being to communicate with this earth's sphere once he has passed into the state of unconsciousness and entered the bliss of that period which lasts between earth-lives, and it is impossible for a particular, definite and beneficent reason. It is mechanically impossible from a psychical point of view; but let us look at it from the moral point of view.

Which, friends, do you consider is wiser, grander, more just in every way, to the being that was? He has done his day's work, has he not? He has passed through the tribulations of earth-life. He has 'done his job,' and of necessity that human soul needs rest, needs peace, needs spiritual refreshment before taking tu the toil of earth-life again. What kind of rest would it be to you if you were forced to look down from a purely mythical heaven and see the sorrows, the trials and tribulations of those that you had left behind — if the bonds of sympathy and love were very great? I do not need to pile illustration upon illustration, but I think that you can recognise for yourselves that it certainly would not be a period of unalloyed rest and bliss; and this is quite a sufficient reason to understand that Nature in her great mercy does not permit such a disturbance of the peace of the soul that has passed on.

Actually where do these messages emanate from? They are sufficiently genuine, they are sufficiently accurate, they bear what is called 'evidential value' of their source; so much so that if you have ever attended a Spiritualistic seance you will always find a number of people who will immediately testify to the fact that what the clairvoyant or the medium has told them — the description that has been given them of their father, or their mother, or their sweetheart, or something of that kind — is perfectly just and accurate; that moreover the medium described characteristics that were so peculiar to that individual that they could not possibly doubt. Then where have these come from?

The mediums have a faculty, by virtue of their peculiar constitution, of doing a number of interesting things; and one of the faculties of the mediumistic nature is that they have a power of attracting the remnants, the left-off clothing if you like to call it so, of the emotional nature of the beings that were — to attract them: that is all. They can get it, so to speak, into the sphere of their own magnetic influence; and having done so, that bundle of memories, of thoughts and feelings, of emotions, is galvanized into a state of activity, very much as a gramophone record is made to play an old tune, and the tune it will play will be in accordance with the particular memories evoked by the thoughts and memories in the mind of the individual in the audience at a seance with whom they are connected; and therefore since those molecules and atoms which compose those bodies contain a complete record or memory of all the incidents that happened in that past life, they are able to say a whole lot of things which only that person knows about. One of the peculiar characteristics of the evidence which they always advance is: "It was such a remarkable thing that that medium said to me, because I had never been there before, she did not know who I was, and yet she said that particular thing that I knew about." Precisely, that was why the medium was able to tell them.

Friends, not only does Nature herself have a great and marvelous record and memory, a great picture-gallery preserving the record of every event that ever was; but each individual one of us has what is called an 'atmosphere' — a surrounding aura or sphere in which is recorded every slight thought and feeling and action that we have ever done. Is it not natural that those we have loved — ay, and those we have hated, too — will have left a clear imprint and picture, not only in our own atmosphere but in the corresponding memory of Nature? Again, the mental and emotional relics that we leave behind us when we pass on will also bear that same connexion with the memory of Nature and with the magnetic sphere surrounding our friends that we have left behind.

It is a fact that a competent, good medium is able to read the magnetic sphere that surrounds us all. He is able to read there all that took place between you and the departed entity, tell you the names, give you an accurate description, because they are all in front of the medium — he can see them there. Do not think that by that statement I mean to suggest that the medium is in any way deceiving you. Not at all. Mediums do not know how they get their results, and one of the most curious phenomena is that of the photograph — of what is called a 'spirit-photograph,' when an extra face appears upon the photographic plate in the background. You have all heard or seen illustrations of it. It is a very interesting fact. What is called a 'photographic medium' gets to work and takes your photograph, and sure enough there on the plate you have a picture of somebody you have lost.

Lady Conan Doyle in today's Sunday Despatch gives a description of how a scientific friend went to the British College of Psychic Science — and he went with a perfectly open mind to see what he could find out about the 'spirit-photograph,' as they call it. The medium was leaving the ball when he arrived, but he asked him to come back and take a photograph for him and he did, and to his (the friend's) great delight he found a perfectly accurate representation of a daughter he had lost, a far better photograph than had been done in life. Well, friends, where did it come from? You can understand that anybody who had not a knowledge of the ancient teachings, the ancient laws inherent in Nature itself, would be deceived by such a phenomenon. He would say, "That girl is alive, conscious, and I have not lost her at all; survival is a fact," never dreaming that it was possible by means of that peculiar characteristic of mediumship to evoke from the memory of Nature or from the memory of the individual, or however you like to put it, the exact image, to densify that image and produce what is tantamount to a materialization that it is possible to photograph; but that is the process.

Do they question it? Not at all. They are mediums. It 'just happens,' from their point of view. For them it is a wonderful power, and it is a remarkable faculty — you cannot get away from it — and to them it is a very spiritual and significant event in their lives.

I will give you one other illustration that Lady Conan Doyle gives in this same journal. It shows this more clearly yet. As you know, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died some considerable time ago — I do not know when: possibly it was not so very long ago — and since then they have been holding Spiritualistic seances, and Lady Conan Doyle is completely satisfied and convinced that her husband is communicating with her definitely and in fact. She gives one illustration which she says is a very homely one, but she considers it very comforting. I will tell you what it is and you shall judge for yourself what this thing is, stripped of its sentimental value.

These were the facts: just before her husband died she had put into their country-house a new sort of glass in the windows. It was that particular kind of glass which does not interfere with the ultraviolet rays of the sun. She did it as a gift to him, hoping it would strengthen him when he went down there in the summer. He never lived to see what she had done; he never knew anything about it in fact. Now they had a communication from an excellent medium. She said the late departed Sir Arthur took control of the medium and had communication, and among other things said that he was constantly in the house and benefitting from the ultra-violet rays that came through the windows! ! Now she said, "The critical will say 'How trivial!' but," she adds, "it is very comforting to think that he knew about it."

Well, friends, what is the explanation, the interpretation, from the Theosophical point of view, from the point of view of facts in Nature? That had made a very great impression on Lady Conan Doyle's mind, the record was there in her own mentality; and it was the simplest thing in the world, and perfectly natural, for that medium quite unconsciously to reflect that fact from her consciousness, and it appears in conjunction with the literary remains of Sir Conan Doyle in the form of a 'spirit message' which to her is very convincing. But, friends, has it any real spiritual value at all? I think we must admit, since we have no sentimental connexion with this case, that it has no value at all. It is a very interesting psychic happening, and that is about all you can say for it.

Every one of the different psychic phenomena that occur — I do not care what they are — is susceptible of a different interpretation from the one that is put upon it. I am not going to take time to illustrate for you the innumerable instances that have occurred in the fifty years since the coming of Madame H. P. Blavatsky. They are almost endless, but if anything you have heard has stimulated your interest to the point of realizing that after all there may be another side to the question, then, friends, I say, Go to work with a book and learn for yourselves what are these laws in Nature, and you will develop a background of knowledge for your investigation of the hidden powers of Nature which you will never get in any of your Spiritualistic seances.

I want to leave one main idea with you, and it is this: in going to work in the particular way that the Spiritualist does he actually denies himself the power of direct spiritual perception. He denies to himself the grand realities of the priceless knowledge of himself as he essentially and divinely is in his own innermost nature. Try to get at the meaning of that state, because Spiritualists are people who in the majority of cases are tremendously sincere; they want something more than they can materially contact and get from the materialistic point of view, and because of their past Karman, if you will, perhaps owing to a slight development of mediumistic faculties in past lives — I do not know what it might be — they are led to believe that the next stage in their spiritual development is to open that back door of their consciousness into these unseen realms of Nature. Remember that they are opening the door into the realms of the emotional and the passional nature, the realms inhabited by nature-spirits, by elementaries, by spooks, by ghosts, by the relics of all that we have loved and lost, as we think. By stepping aside from the conscious control of their own mechanism of consciousness they are actually turning their back upon the light that lighteth every man in the world if he will only look for it in the right place.

That is a very terrible thing. It is a mighty serious one, too, believe me, friends, because an increasing number of human souls are being drawn into the vortex of mediumship and psychism.

The whole object of the Theosophical Movement, and the work that we are doing here, is to state over and over again, in different ways, in differing aspects, that at the heart of every living thing the Divine Light exists, pulsing, burning brightly, and if you look and search into the innermost depths of your being it is possible to discover that Light. Not only that, but in the discovery, provided your motive is selfless, true and sincere, you will find that those Great Beings who have passed along the path of human evolution ahead of us, are there waiting, watching, for every single one of us who lights the Divine flame in his own heart by that search for truth, by sincerity, and by his desire to place his whole being, his whole nature, at the service of the human race, once he has discovered that Light and that it is a matter for him of conscious knowledge. Have no fear; once the Light is seen by those distant watchers, friends, it will not be allowed to go out — it might flicker but it will not be allowed to go out. It will be tended and helped and made to burn steadily and more brightly according as we act in terms of that higher nature within us, and provided we do not abdicate to any agency outside of ourselves. That is the message of Theosophy upon this great subject.



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