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The Hill of Discernment

By Alfred Trevor Barker

Spiritualism and Psychic Phenomena

Our subject tonight: "Spiritualism and Psychic Phenomena," is one of a good deal of complexity, and we shall have to see whether, with the help of those who are met together here, and their interaction with the thought of the lecturer, we may gain some illumination and understanding of this very difficult and rather thorny problem. I have been greatly perplexed, as I was trying to prepare what I had to say to you, to know how best to tackle the subject, for the amount of teaching in The Mahatma Letters upon this subject is vast, and in a short hour we can only select a few passages and try to elucidate them.

The whole of the Theosophical philosophy rests on a few axiomatic propositions, and we will always be going astray and losing the very essence of the subject that we are trying to understand if we do not approach every branch and department of our Teachings by seeking the appropriate key in the shape of one of the Fundamental axioms, in order that in the light that this particular key gives us we can understand more clearly the whole problem. These Fundamental Propositions are a kind of frame of reference to which we relate every idea and teaching of the philosophy; and once you have made the effort to acquire at least some understanding of that framework, you will have a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction and far more profit in your studies.

I am going to read you those propositions, which seem to me an appropriate and essential part of our subject this evening. If you turn to the twelfth chapter of Isis Unveiled, Volume 11, page 588, you will find there the following:

6th. Mediumship is the opposite of adeptship; the medium is the passive instrument of foreign influences, the adept actively controls himself and all inferior potencies.
This Proposition goes right to the root of the problem of spiritualism and mediumship.

7th. All things that ever were, that are, or that will be, having their record upon the astral light, or tablet of the unseen universe, the initiated adept, by using the vision of his own spirit, can know all that has been known or can be known.
You see the significance of that: if everything and every event that has occurred in the world's history, has its record in the memory of nature itself, and that the unveiled spiritual perception of an Adept Seer can penetrate to it and read it, why you have the explanation of a large part also of the phenomena of spiritualism; for in the lower levels of this memory of nature — the Astral Light as it is called — it is possible for the uninitiated medium, by the extraordinary powers and perceptions that are inherent in the astral body of these people, to reflect — it is true in a distorted way, but nevertheless to reflect — a great deal that is stored in the Astral Light. Furthermore the astral body of the medium is capable of reading, or reflecting, the record that each man carries about in himself. Every one of us has an invisible magnetic sphere or aura, in which is recorded the whole of every incident and event through which we have passed during this earth-life. An ordinary clairvoyant can read, more or less accurately, most of the things that people go to spiritualistic seances to obtain some knowledge of.

8th. Races of men differ in spiritual gifts as in color, stature, or any other external quality; among some peoples seership naturally prevails, among others mediumship. Some are addicted to sorcery, and transmit its secret rules of practice from generation to generation, with a range of psychical phenomena, more or less wide, as the result.
Those are the Fundamental Propositions that I would ask you just to bear in mind as we proceed.

Note the distinction. The Theosophist is interested in spiritual Seership, or Mediatorship, which can only be evolved from above below, within without. The powers of the medium are developed from below, but these faculties of mediumship deleterious as they are, can be developed by almost anybody who is willing to pay the penalty of exchanging the spiritual, intellectual, and moral, for the psychic and material.

Is the Theosophical Movement absolutely opposed to the Spiritualistic Movement, or are there points of contact? What was the situation at the time the "Mahatma Letters" were written? You will find that there was to some extent a sympathetic "rapport" between at least the beginning of the work of H. P. B. and the Spiritualistic Movement, and the reason for that will perhaps be found in the following sentence taken from p. 35:

The only problem to solve is the practical one of how best to promote the necessary study, and give to the spiritualist movement a needed upward impulse.
There is no antagonism there. There is a recognition that the vast numbers and millions of human beings who make up what is called the Spiritualistic Movement are those at least who are not primarily interested in materialism as it is ordinarily understood. On the contrary they believe in forces and powers beyond the comprehension and the activity of the outward physical, objective, thinking man. They seek to explain the various phenomena which take place through mediums and Spiritualistic seances, in terms of the supposed communication between such mediums and those who have passed beyond physical life and entered the realm of the Beyond. They are our allies to the extent that they recognise survival as a fact in Nature. We on the other hand can philosophically and logically bring forward far more convincing evidence — and indeed proof — that survival is a fact, than any medium in any seance.

Where the Theosophist joins issue with the great majority of these psychic, and therefore materialistic, phenomena of the Spiritualistic Movement is in the enormous amount of harm that is done not only to those who produce them here, but to the far greater harm that it does to those entities who have left earth life and who are — thousands of them — drawn back into the vortex of the Spiritualistic seance when they should be left in peace to pursue their way according to the plan that Nature has evolved and laid down for their protection. It is in this fact that must be understood the real and powerful opposition of the Theosophical Movement to all those practices which may be called "The Worship of the Dead." This evocation of the phantoms of the departed is an evil practice. In the East they speak of it as "Bhuta worship" or Devil worship. Why? Simply because it is impossible, owing to the way the Inner Worlds are constructed, for anything other than the Kama-rupic shell to communicate through a medium with those it has left behind on earth. Because there is nothing spiritual in such an ex-human entity the practice is referred to as Bhuta-worship. No purely Spiritual entity is able to descend and communicate with the earth through a medium, because the spheres they inhabit are too far apart.

In other words the Inner worlds that we are dealing with in relation to this physical objective plane may be symbolized as an elliptical orbit of existence separated by two foci, as every ellipse is, and these two foci do not approach each other, and they are represented by Spirit on the one hand and physical matter on the other, and the intermediate connecting conscious link is missing.

Now you will say to me "But all this sounds rather too sweeping in view of the undoubtedly genuine communications that are received from Spiritualistic sources every day of the week. Does the Theosophist deny the truth of every communication that comes through Spiritualistic sources? Well, let me say at once we do not. We deal with facts — or try to — as they are. To show you what our attitude on this subject is, I am going to read you one or two passages that throw light on it. Listen to this, it comes from page 101 of The Mahatma Letters:

It is in this, during such a condition of complete Maya that the Souls or astral Egos of pure, loving sensitives, labouring under the same illusion, think their loved ones come down to them on earth, while it is their own Spirits that are raised towards those in the Deva-Chan. Many of the subjective spiritual communications — most of them when the sensitives are pure minded — are real; but it is most difficult for the uninitiated medium to fix in his mind the true and correct pictures of what he sees and hears.
Again on page 255 you will find the statement that "no self-tutored seer or clairaudient ever saw or heard quite correctly." Continuing:

Some of the phenomena called psychography (though more rarely) are also real. The spirit of the sensitive getting odylised, so to say, by the aura of the Spirit in the Deva-Chan, becomes for a few minutes that departed personality, and writes in the hand writing of the latter, in his language and in his thoughts, as they were during his life time. The two spirits become blended in one; and, the preponderance of one over the other during such phenomena determines the preponderance of personality in the characteristics exhibited in such writings, and "trance speaking." What you call "rapport" is in plain fact an identity of molecular vibration between the astral part of the incarnate medium and the astral part of the disincarnate personality.
There you have two passages showing that communication is possible under certain conditions, and you will note what those conditions are, viz., a pure, loving sensitive (not a paid medium). In another part there is a statement that the bond of love between the sensitive and the one that he seeks to communicate with is that which makes the communication possible, and more accurate and true; and so the consciousness of the sensitive has to be raised until it contacts the entity in its dream of bliss in the Devachan, and there he is in contact with the being that he loved in life, as distinct from the lower psychic and phenomenal contact with the spook of that departed entity which any medium in any kind of a Spiritualistic seance can evoke.

What are we coming to now? We are coming to the fact that the vehicles of consciousness through which a man expresses his lower thoughts, passions and desires are finally cast off by the ego in very much the same way as the body is thrown aside at death. These remains appear as a form bearing the exact shape of the man that you knew in life, and the medium, the clairvoyant, can see this kama-rupic shell. The more materialistic was the man, the more dense and perfect will be the form of the shell — a strange fact, but it is true. Just as any person who has the faculty of psychometry can take a piece of stone from some ancient monument and can tell you incidents that took place around that monument — in exactly the same way the medium can, by the peculiar faculty of the mediumistic temperament, galvanize into activity, just like an electric battery, the cells of memory inherent in the shell. Then, just like a phonograph record, it can be made to play, generally in terms of the personal recollections of his last life or existing in the mind of the sitters in the Spiritualistic seance, repeating the stories and incidents and so on that the personality had passed through. This, if you accept it, will explain the majority of the phenomena of Spiritualism in one shape or form or another.

Let me read you another passage (pp. 113-14), that will show you what our attitude to Spiritualism is on the sympathetic or favorable side:

Anyhow it may show her that it is not against trite Spiritualism that we set ourselves, but only against indiscriminate mediumship and — physical manifestations, — materializations and trance-possessions especially. Could the Spiritualists be only made to understand the difference between individuality and personality, between individual and personal immortality and some other truths, they would be more easily persuaded that Occultists may be fully convinced of the monad's immortality, and yet deny that of the soul — the vehicle of the personal Ego; that they can firmly believe in, and themselves practice spiritual communications and intercourse with the disembodied Egos of the Rupa-Loka, and yet laugh at the insane idea of "shaking hands" with a "Spirit"!; that finally, that as the matter stands, it is the Occultists and the Theosophists who are true Spiritualists, while the modern sect of that name is composed simply of materialistic phenomenalists.
That again clears the ground as to what our attitude in this matter is.

Now I want to turn to an aspect of the problem that we have so far left out in the last lecture that was given on the life after death, and that is in connexion with the exceptions to the general rule. So far we have been considering the difficulty that the Spiritualistic phenomenalist will have in reaching to the real entity. There is no point whatsoever in communicating with the spook. You can do it if you want to, but what interest is there in speaking to an empty shell, a phonographic record? — nothing. It is only the indwelling Spiritual flame of love and intelligence, and all the beautiful human qualities that you love in a man or woman. That is what we love, and it is that which is entirely lacking in the shell or spook, so why worry about it?

Are all entities necessarily so difficult to reach? Unfortunately not — and I say that advisedly — unfortunately not. There are two classes of entities that are relatively easy to reach, and those are the victims of suicide and accidental or violent death. This matter is dealt with in a particularly illuminating way on pp. 109-110 as follows:

. . . we have lost sight of: the suicides and those killed by accident. Both kinds can communicate, and both have to pay dearly for such visits. And now I have again to explain what I mean. Well, this class is the one that the French Spiritists call — "les Esprits Souffrants." They are an exception to the rule, as they have to remain within the earth's attraction, and in its atmosphere — the Kama-Loka — till the very last moment of what would have been the natural duration of their lives. In other words, that particular wave of life-evolution must run on to its shore. But it is a sin and cruelty to revive their memory and intensify their suffering by giving them a chance of living an artificial life; a chance to overload their Karma, by tempting them into open doors, viz., mediums and sensitives, for they will have to pay roundly for every such pleasure. I will explain. The suicides, who, foolishly hoping to escape life, found themselves still alive, — have suffering enough in store for them from that very life. Their punishment is in the intensity of the latter. Having lost by the rash act their seventh and sixth principles, though not forever, as they can regain both — instead of accepting their punishment, and taking their chances of redemption, they are often made to regret life and tempted to regain a hold upon it by sinful means. In the Kama-Loka, the land of intense desires, they can gratify their earthly yearnings but through a living proxy; and by so doing, at the expiration of the natural term, they generally lose their monad for ever. As to the victims of accident — these fare still worse. Unless they were so good and pure, as to be drawn immediately within the Akasic Samadhi, i. e., to fall into a state of quiet slumber, a sleep full of rosy dreams, during which, they have no recollection of the accident, but move and live among their familiar friends and scenes, until their natural life-term is finished, when they find themselves born in the Deva-Chan — a gloomy fate is theirs. Unhappy shades, if sinful and sensual they wander about — (not shells, for their connection with their two higher principles is not quite broken) — until their death hour comes. Cut off in the full flush of earthly passions which bind them to familiar scenes, they are enticed by the opportunities which mediums afford, to gratify them vicariously. They are the Pisachas, the Incubi, and Succubi of mediaeval times. The demons of thirst, gluttony, lust, and avarice, — elementaries of intensified craft, wickedness and cruelty; provoking their victims to horrid crimes, and revelling in their commission! They not only ruin their victims, but these psychic vampires, borne along by the torrent of their hellish impulses, at last, at the fixed close of their natural period of life — they are carried out of the earth's aura into regions where for ages they endure exquisite suffering and end with entire destruction.
And on page 113:

And woe to those whose Trishna will attract them to mediums, and woe to the latter, who tempt them with such an easy Upadana. For in grasping them, and satisfying their thirst for life, the medium helps to develop in them — is in fact the cause of — a new set of Skandhas, a new body, with far worse tendencies and passions than was the one they lost. All the future of this new body will be determined thus, not only by the Karma of demerit of the previous set or group but also by that of the new set of the future being. Were the mediums and Spiritualists but to know, as I said, that with every new "angel guide" they welcome with rapture, they entice the latter into an Upadana which will be productive of a series of untold evils for the new Ego that will be born under its nefarious shadow, and that with every seance — especially for materialization — they multiply the causes for misery, causes that will make the unfortunate Ego fail in his spiritual birth, or be reborn into a worse existence than ever — they would, perhaps, be less lavishing their hospitality.
And now, you may understand why we oppose so strongly Spiritualism and mediumship.

There you have the essence of the subject. We have to remember that Theosophic teaching is not an arbitrary system of thought based upon any one person's say-so, or the imagination of one or two clairvoyants, but on the contrary is the fruit of literally the experiences of thousands of generations of initiated Adept Seers — not mediums — and the truths that we have been discussing tonight, however imperfectly expounded to you, nevertheless are an attempt to explain the actual laws, the actual facts that underlie the whole vast question of psychic phenomena.

It would take days and weeks, I suggest, to endeavor to classify the innumerable classes and the extent of psychic phenomena. It is just endless. The general laws that have been stated are more than sufficient to cover the different categories, and I can truly say that I never yet heard of an example of Spiritualistic or psychic phenomena which could not be explained by one or other of the laws that we find in Theosophical teaching. Although these teachings were given round about 1880-1884, nevertheless they are just as true today as they were then. We do not have to retreat from our position. The only thing that we may like to do is to use more modern examples of what happens in the Spiritualist Movement, because that Movement is changing. The Theosophical Movement does not — it only grows — the genuine Theosophical Movement extends its membership and so on, but it does not alter its position. Why? Because it is rooted in the very laws of nature, and if it were not so rooted it would be a sham and a fraud and a farce, and that is a fact. If Theosophic truth is not more permanent than the findings of orthodox science it is useless. The latter constantly has to change its position, not only from century to century, but from decade to decade and less, as further researches prove that what they thought true yesterday is no longer true today. But note this: no living person (or dead one either) has ever been successfully able to challenge a single statement of H. P. B.'s Teaching; and when you think of the voluminous nature of her writings, it says something for the titanic intellect that she possessed, and it says something for the sublime system of thought that was able to be so consistent with all the guns of materialistic trained upon her work; with all the opposition of the vested interests of the orthodox religions when they came up against the living and dynamic truths of the Esoteric philosophy, not one of them has ever been able to prove her wrong in a single essential particular. Try to do it with an open mind; try to sink Blavatsky's philosophy; try to knock a hole in the bottom of it. I hope you will try, because it must end in your being won over, convinced by your own efforts of the truth of what she taught. There is no compromise possible in the attitude of genuine Theosophists, who are seeking to spread wider and wider the knowledge of these truths. At most we can say, "Here is the teaching that has brought us light and inspiration and an ever-growing knowledge; and those who want it can take it from us if they will accept it, free, gratis and for nothing; and for those who oppose it, who will not take it, who will do everything they can to show these teachings in a wrong light, I would ask them to listen to these few closing words, where Master K. H. shows what Their attitude is to the world as a whole in their Centennial effort to enlighten the Western races. He says, pages 50-1:

If, for generations we have "shut out the world from the Knowledge of our Knowledge," it is on account of its absolute unfitness; and if, notwithstanding proofs given, it still refuses yielding to evidence, then will we at the End of this cycle retire into solitude and our kingdom of silence once more. . . . We have offered to exhume the primeval strata of man's being, his basic nature, and lay bare the wonderful complications of his inner Self — something never to be achieved by physiology or even psychology in its ultimate expression — and demonstrate it scientifically. It matters not to them, if the excavations be so deep, the rocks so rough and sharp, that in diving into that, to them, fathomless ocean, most of us perish in the dangerous exploration; for it is we who were the divers and the pioneers and the men of science have but to reap where we have sown. It is our mission to plunge and bring the pearls of Truth to the surface; theirs — to clean and set them into scientific jewels. And, if they refuse to touch the ill-shapen, oyster-shell, insisting that there is, nor cannot be any precious pearl inside it, then shall we once more wash our hands of my responsibility before human-kind. For countless generations hath the adept builded a fane of imperishable rocks, a giant's Tower of INFINITE THOUGHT, wherein the Titan dwelt, and will yet, if need be, dwell alone, emerging from it, but at the end of every cycle, to invite the elect of mankind to co-operate with him and help in his turn enlighten superstitious man. And we will go on in that periodical work of ours; we will not allow ourselves to be baffled in our philanthropic attempts until that day when the foundations of a new continent of thought are so firmly built that no amount of opposition and ignorant malice guided by the Brethren of the Shadow will be found to prevail.



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