Varieties Of Psychism

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Varieties Of Psychism


The Lower Psychism

Natural Involuntary Psychism. - We have already dealt with the rationale of this. But it is important to note that under this heading come those forms of psychic activity wherein the psychic influence is very objectively expressed in, terms of physical plane senses, sight and smell being perhaps the commonest. As already described, a figure is seen as though it were an objective reality. Sometimes an astral presence affects the psychic through the sense of smell - pleasant or unpleasant.[ This must be distinguished from another class of phenomena in which the scent would appear to become perceptible by a process of partial materialisation. For instance, it sometimes happens that an entity visiting a Spiritualistic séance makes his presence perceptible to all the sitters through smell. I know of a case where a séance was repeatedly broken up through the attentions of one such visitant, who brought an utterly intolerable odour of decaying fish. We read of a similar smell in St. Athanasius' Life of St. Anthony; St. Anthony traced it to the possession of a youth by an evil spirit and banished it by exorcism of the spirit. Where the scent is perceived by all present, it obviously has become sufficiently manifest on the physical plane to affect the physical sense of smell, and has therefore passed out of the region of psychic perception. An agreeable odour often accompanies the presence - physical or super-physical - of a member of the White Brotherhood. This would seem sometimes to be physically objective, and sometimes to be perceived psychically] [Page 24]

The quotation from ‘A Study in Consciousness’ on page 10 explains the rationale of this particular form of psychism. It is due to the stimulation of the astral matter related to the physical senses, as distinct from the astral sense-organs or chakrams proper. Taste is occasionally affected in the same way: [Page 25] some forms of clairaudience [ As, for example, when a new sense of hearing suddenly seems to be opened up, and a voice perhaps rings out with startling suddenness and clearness, without the preliminary preparation which usually accompanies the mediumistic process. Some theorists, with what authority I do not know, advance the idea that the corpora quadra-gemina is the organ of clairaudience in the brain] may also belong to this category; as regards touch I do not feel competent to speak.

Artificially Induced. - There are methods - usually undesirable - by which the lower psychism may be stimulated. One set of such methods aims at throwing the cerebro-spinal system into a state of suspense for the time being, so that the sympathetic once more assumes the predominance. The use of the magic-mirror, [Magic-mirrors are made in various ways, and some are quite elaborate. One type is made of copper, highly burnished. A simple one can be fashioned out of a piece of glass, about 9 in. in length, slightly curved and the concave side being evenly coated with bitumen. This gives a smooth black surface on which the gaze may be concentrated. The more erudite professors of these arts make their mirrors under carefully chosen astrological aspects.] the crystal, the dark spot on a white ground; the various [Page 26] devices for inducing self-hypnosis,[ Where a mesmerist induces the psychic faculty in a "lucid" subject, results of a much higher order often accrue; the principle is some-what the same, but other factors are present. This method is peculiarly effective in some cases where the subject has in past lives been a Temple sybil.] such as the disc or the revolving mirror - all have this end in view. The effect of the crystal, for instance, is to fatigue the optic nerve and so to cause temporary slight paralysis in the adjoining region of the brain, stimulating at the same time the aggregations of astral matter connected with the physical visual apparatus.

Another set of methods calculated to induce the lower psychism have to do [Page 27] with the excitation of the physical mechanism in various ways, e.g., by the taking of alcohol. The underlying principle seems to be that if the vibratory rate of the body can be heightened, it is easier for the physical vehicle to make relation with the higher. Now this, in fact, is one of the uses of art. It is well known that music often causes psychic interplay between the bodies; it works by harmonising them and so to speak synchronising their vibrations, and was extensively used in the Pythagorean schools for that purpose. But there is this difference: art calls into play the finer side of the nature, working, on the physical plane, through the higher ethers, and so tends to produce the higher psychism; furthermore it calls the consciousness, the aesthetic and synthetic faculties, directly into [Page 28] play; whereas the methods we are now discussing affect the physical body at not so high a level. The effect of alcohol is to quicken the circulation of the blood; the vapours act also on the brain, and probably there is a slight loosening or dislocation of the etheric body. The net result, in some cases, is that the body is rendered more receptive of super-physical impressions - cases such as those of well-known geniuses in literature or music, whose greatest work was produced under alcoholic stimulation. The lower forms of sexual magic, designed to force a back-door entrance into the astral world, work also on this principle; sometimes, too, there is use, deliberate or otherwise, of elemental aid.

Side by side with these methods may be placed another type of psychism, [Page 29] though belonging to a far more innocuous class of phenomena. It is classed under the present category because it is not the product of an inner development of soul but of abnormal outer environment. It is well known that psychic powers are prevalent among: mountain folk, in Switzerland, for instance, and among the Highlanders of Scotland. [ The Celtic origin of the Scottish Highlanders is also responsible, in all probability, for much of their psychism.] One possible explanation of this fact may be summed up in the following chain of sequences. The great altitude at which they live entails corresponding rarity of the atmosphere; this in its turn entails abnormal activity of the heart and rapidity of circulation; and this on the principle enunciated above, offers greater opportunity for psychic interplay between the bodies. [Page 30]

Mediumship. - Under this heading we shall have to consider those forms of psychic activity appertaining rather to mediumship than to psychism. The placing of these two words in antithesis denotes a distinction which has grown up in Theosophical terminology, but one difficult to define with precision. The general principle is that a medium yields himself to excarnate (or even incarnate) entities and is subject to their control, whereas a psychic is one able to establish communication with the invisible worlds in virtue of his own faculties. As is usual in dealing with these questions of psychology, no hard and fast line of demarcation can be drawn between the two states - Natura non facit saltus. A medium represents the extreme left-hand wing of negativity; still, the lower involuntary [Page 31] psychism is also a negative state; according to some authorities the chakrams of both turn predominantly to the left, whereas, those related to the higher - positive - psychism turn in a dextro-rotary direction. The lower psychism resembles mediumship in that it is not fully under the control of the will, and often comes into play independently of the volition or desire of the person concerned - in fact, it is rather more prone to this than mediumship, for the average medium does yield himself to his control with full consent, and it is only after this surrender that he ceases to be a fully responsible agent. The higher psychism occupies the extreme right-hand wing of positivity, and may be said to consist in the power self-determinedly to modify the consciousness [Page 32] and matter of the bodies so that they are in tune with the object under observation, and further to transmit information thus acquired into the waking consciousness. Thus mediumship and the lower psychism, though distinct, have it in common that they are forms of negative psychism.

Mediumship implies a loose and fluidic etheric double, capable more or less readily of extrusion, so as to give scope for the action of the controlling entity. We may go so far as to say that for all psychic faculty some peculiar organisation of the etheric double is necessitated; and there obviously remains much concerning the constitution and function of the etheric double to be elucidated in future Theosophical literature. It is difficult to decide how far the term mediumship [Page 33] is applicable to some of the higher phases of occult phenomena; as, for instance, where a Master uses the body of a disciple. This may take place to any degree varying from inspiration to complete occupation. In the latter event the disciple may be regarded, in one sense, as a medium in this connection, though assuredly it is the higher mediumship, and in other respects the disciple may be capable of exercising the higher psychic powers voluntarily and in fullest consciousness of what he is doing. At the same time, there are various factors to be taken into consideration: e.g., Does the occupation take place with the consent of the disciple? Does he merely allow himself to be passively extruded, or does he step out by his own power? Is he fully conscious afterwards of what has [Page 34] taken place? Does the occupation take place at the etheric, astral or mental level? Similar questions apply to the case of any person who can become receptive to the influence of a Master, and so receive what is called inspiration.

If there is one moral to be drawn from these reflections, it is the undesirability of condemning mediumship indiscriminately. And if this lesson had been taken to heart in the past, we might have avoided much senseless quarrelling with the more high-minded and philosophical among the Spiritualists. The Founder of our movement, herself, Madame Blavatsky, was undoubtedly a medium, and on that account capable of being used as she was, though her mediumship was of a higher kind. She tells us that, whereas [Page 35] in her childhood she was a passive medium, she later learned to control the faculty and bring it under the guidance of the will. We may recognise the value of some of the higher phases of mediumship, without committing ourselves to any endorsement of the lower phases. And one of the best ways of dealing with the Spiritualist movement would be, instead of quarrelling with a number of earnest-minded people, to use all our influence to raise the level of mediumship and to improve the conditions under which it is to be exercised. There should be institutions like the temples of olden time, where the mediums can be trained and assisted; where they can pursue their calling free from that financial anxiety which is responsible for so much of the fraud that is prevalent, conscious and unconscious; [Page 36] where their surroundings can be made conducive in every way to moral and spiritual elevation; where their health can be carefully tended and their efforts regulated, so that the too common resort to physical plane "spirits" to restore depleted vitality may be obviated. In this way we should gradually abolish the lower conditions and forms of mediumship, where the helpless medium resembles a sink-pipe down which astral refuse pours into the physical plane. I was told by a friend that after the Messina disaster of a few years back, the astral conditions around the Italian mediums were terrible beyond description; there were literally crowds of entities, wild with the terror and suddenness of the catastrophe, who swarmed around the mediums, clutching each other away in [Page 37] their anxiety to resume touch with earth-life or to communicate with their relatives.

Mediumship is sometimes spoken of as an abnormal and unnatural condition. It is obvious that both these terms are relative. Psychism of any sort is abnormal at the present stage of evolution, in the sense that it belongs only to a minority of the race, and the same may be said of really high intellectual development. "Unnatural” is a word which ought in every case to be used with guarded reserve; nothing that does happen can possibly be unnatural in the true meaning of the term, for nothing can take place outside of the laws of nature: it might be more accurate sometimes to use the word artificial, implying that what happens is not, so to speak, a product of the normal [Page 38] design of nature, but is brought about artificially by the exercise of human intelligence. In using terms of this description we must also remember that humanity develops through various epochs, and that what is natural to one epoch is not "in the way of progress" in another. Abnormalities, even, have their periods of rise, decline and recrudescence. It is possible that in Fourth Race times mediumship was the normal course of higher development; it is possible also that from the beginning it was an artificial state brought about by magical arts. What seems certain is that it is not a desirable way of progress for the present time - remembering always that there are usually exceptions to such generalisations as this. Mediums are evidently those who bring over [Page 39] certain tendencies as a heritage from past lives, and in dealing with psychics as a whole it is well to bear in mind that faculties which are an endowment from birth spring from the region of the subconscious, and are seldom as perfectly understood as those powers which are cultivated in fullest self-consciousness. Hence it is not wise to judge psychics by ordinary standards, for they, more than most people, are prone to be impelled to action by forces welling up from within their own nature.

The phenomena of mediumship range from those which involve complete control or possession of the medium's body to those where the entity in charge only influences the mentality of the medium. In trance there is more or less complete possession; [Page 40] in most cases the medium loses consciousness entirely, though on rare occasions there is a remnant of physical "awareness". Materialisation phenomena usually involve trance, but not always. There is a classic case of materialisation with the medium Monk, where physical consciousness was to all appearances fully retained. A party of well-known investigators, consisting of Alfred Russell Wallace, the well-known scientist, Stainton Moses, the famous Spiritualist writer and medium, the present writer's grandfather, Hensleigh Wedgwood, and the Rev. (later Archdeacon) Colley, held a séance with Dr. Monk in an upper floor of a Bloomsbury house, in full daylight, with the sun shining outside. A mist appeared to be extruded from the left-hand side of [Page 41] the medium; presently this formed itself into a figure, having an independent existence, the medium being in full view and apparently conscious.[ The record of this was substantiated by Dr. A. R. Wallace, when giving witness a few years ago in the famous law-suit, "Maskelyne versus Colley". Mr. Maskelyne was shown not to have been able to reproduce the phenomenon by mechanical means under the conditions of the challenge thrown out by Archdeacon Colley, which merely stipulated surroundings and circumstances similar to those of the original occasion.]

In another variety of materialisation, technically called "transfiguration," the medium is usually entranced, though again not invariably. In ordinary materialisation the figure is external to the medium, often showing itself at a distance of some feet or even yards from his person, and being capable of locomotion. In transfiguration the medium's face, and perhaps person, [Page 42] undergoes alteration, and assumes the appearance of the entity who is materialising. I have been told of a case of transfiguration which was again different in character, in that it was a combination of materialisation and transfiguration: A materialised form passed round a circle of sitters, changing appearance as it came to each sitter and the features being in several cases recognisable as those of dead relatives and friends. [ Unfortunately, having forgotten who gave me this information, I cannot substantiate the case with further evidential data.]

A form of transfiguration which is scarcely analogous to the foregoing is sometimes observable when a speaker is addressing an audience. The face undergoes alteration, the height sometimes changes, and even a change of sex may be indicated in the figure [Page 43] and general appearance. Now this may be due to one of various causes, in all of which clairvoyance on the part of the spectator is involved. It may be a case of ordinary possession of the speaker's body, such as we have already dealt with; and a partial densification on the part of the controlling entity brings him just within the border line of visibility. Or it may be the occupation of the body at the astral level by a higher being, whose more powerful magnetism stimulates clairvoyance in the spectator. Secondly, it may be a case of overshadowing, rather than occupation. A Master may be influencing the speaker, and again the strong sweep of His magnetism stimulates clairvoyance. Or there may be some temporary accession of clairvoyance, caused perhaps by the speaker's magnetism, [Page 44] which causes the spectator to see some being who happens to be in the vicinity of the speaker - with or without influencing him. In both these cases there is a confusion of the speaker and the other being, due to imperfect observation.

Thirdly - and this often happens at Theosophical lectures - what is observed may not be another entity at all, but the speaker under another aspect of his own nature. In trying to understand this, it must be remembered that we are all composite beings, the product of many incarnations in the past, in which we have learned certain lessons and developed certain qualities and tendencies. Some people show this composite nature more than others, revealing one phase of their nature on one day, another on the following day. A man [Page 45] may display certain habits of mind, of outlook on life, of speech, of gesture, when discussing science, and altogether others when dealing with art. This is a characteristic of people called versatile, and one which is developed to abnormality in some instances of multiple personality. Naturally all this is intensified in the more advanced student of Occultism, whose experience has been deeper and richer than that of the generality of mankind, because of the greater potency of the forces dealt with. If in a past life such an one has been connected with the Mysteries and taken part in wonderful pageants of ceremonial under one of the great Masters, such a life must needs leave a very marked and definite imprint upon his nature. In speaking upon the subject of the [Page 46] Mysteries, or in performing ritual, such a person might be placed so strongly in touch with that past as to carry the consciousness of others present along the line of magnetic relationship, so that they see him as he was in that life. The ancient thought-forms are re-vivified. This not infrequently happens when our President is lecturing; one student saw her as a man in Egypt in a life in which he also had taken part; others have seen her in Neo-Platonic and mediaeval lives. A variation of the same phenomenon may be attributed to the fact that when the person is dealing with certain subjects of fundamental interest the Ego is interested and plays through the personality; the listener whose psychic faculties are for the time being enhanced by the outflow of power, glimpses the [Page 47] Augoeides or a reflection thereof on a lower plane, which differs in appearance somewhat from the physical features. [ Or, even if there be no great difference of features, the observer receives the impression of a different face, owing to the sudden opening up of the higher vision with the rush of power which always attends upon such an experience and which interrupts the sequentiality of normal vision.]

But let us return to our subject. It will be remembered we were discussing the various forms of mediumistic phenomena, from those which involve complete possession of the medium's body on the one hand, to those in which only the mentality of the medium is influenced. We may deal next with the “direct voice". For the production of this, again, the medium is usually, though not necessarily, entranced. A particularly happy form of [Page 48] this phenomenon is when the voice proceeds from another part of the room than that in which the medium is seated and under conditions which preclude ventriloquism; and a still more perfect variety was occasionally to be heard some years ago at a certain private circle in London, when a quartette of voices would sing, and sing beautifully. In these cases, those in charge of the operations would have to materialise vocal organs. In other cases, to which the name of "direct voice" can hardly be given, the operators modify the vocal mechanism of the medium. Occasionally, the sex will alter, a male medium will speak in a high-pitched voice, or a female medium in a deep-toned voice. These cases are seldom convincing, for even if they are genuine, the controlling entities are making [Page 49] use of the apparatus to hand, and if a lady spirit does not feel happy in using a male voice, the effect she produces is exactly the same as if the medium were under normal conditions trying to talk in a squeaky voice. There was a lady medium frequently to be heard at Spiritualistic services a few years ago in England, who claimed to be controlled by the spirit of Spurgeon. Her voice would, perhaps, normally be that of a high mezzo-soprano, but when she was under control it would alter and become deep and full; at the same time it was not quite a man's voice, and I could judge that the medium who had a full chest development was quite capable of producing such notes herself - though in all likelihood she was quite honest and correct in her claim to be under male control. [Page 50]

At one time I had considerable experience with phenomena of this sort through a psychic, quite of the higher type, who was capable either of transmitting with perfect fluency communications made to her from the astral plane while still in the physical body and conscious, or of voluntarily stepping out of her body. A higher plane Teacher, who had been in male incarnation, frequently gave instruction, and sometimes, for various occult purposes, took possession of the body. Even when she retained complete physical consciousness, her voice would every now and again deepen in pitch and timbre, as the Teacher became emphatic and earnest, and thus tended to impress himself more on the intermediary; and this deepening took place to the fullest extent, of course, on those [Page 51] occasions when the body was occupied.

Returning, however, to cases of ordinary mediumship, what is more convincing in these demonstrations is when the medium assumes idiosyncrasies of speech and pronunciation which are recognisably those of a dead person unknown to him during life.

When we come to consider the familiar phenomenon of automatic writing, again different methods of working are in evidence. There is a phenomenon called “direct writing," analogous to the “direct voice," where writing takes place between slates or on paper, without contact on the part of the medium. The latter is usually entranced, as in most cases of detached materialisation, where greater power is needed for the production of [Page 52] the phenomena, and is withdrawn from his body. But in ordinary automatic writing - where it is really automatic, a distinction we shall note in a moment - trance is rare, for the simple reason that if a spirit fully occupies a body (which is what trance implies), it is simpler to communicate through the latter by speech rather than by writing. In automatic writing the controlling spirit contrives to make relationship with the fingers, and sometimes the arm also, of the medium, producing the result quite independently of the medium's mentality. One well-known person, who possessed the faculty, used to read a book while the writing was taking place, in order to ensure that his thoughts did not influence the proceedings. Sometimes, too, paintings or sketches have been accomplished in [Page 53] this way, through mediums who normally had no artistic ability. In some cases the spirit may elect to make connection with the medium's brain also.

We may take it that in relation to the total number of cases of so-called automatic writing, this variety is rare; what is much more widespread is a power which should be called inspirational rather than automatic writing. The process consists in impressing ideas on the brain of the writer, who then, in propria persona, writes them down. The medium is in a thoroughly negative and receptive state, and while it is true that his hand is responding more or less automatically to the dictates of his brain, so that there is little awareness of the mechanical process of transcribing the ideas. Nevertheless this is merely [Page 54] evidence of the fact that habit renders such processes subject to the bodily automatism in a high degree, and it would probably be found that in the majority of such cases there was no direct control of the muscles of the hand or arm by the spirit. The script is either the medium's own, or has dwindled off into such a scrawl as results if a man gradually falls asleep in writing a letter, thus relaxing the vigilance of the attention.

The late Mr. W. T. Stead - or rather “Julia" - in ‘Letters from Julia’, discussing the rationale of this writing and the fact that these communications are usually so largely coloured by the medium's personality, brought forward an exceedingly interesting and illuminating simile. The medium's brain, she said, resembled the keyboard of a [Page 55] typewriter. In using a typewriter, one shape of letter alone was available in the alphabet, a specific form of script was imposed on the operator by the machine. So with a medium: the spirit impressed an idea on the brain, but that reproduced itself in whatever form of expression was germane to the medium. We may take, as an instance, an illiterate medium who is used as an inspirational speaker; the defects of grammar and a certain errancy of the h's would not necessarily be the spirit's fault; these things would appertain to the limitations of the instrument employed, just as with a sheet of typed manuscript a faint impression, due to a dried ribbon, would not necessarily imply any lack of digital force on the part of the operator. Mr. Stead was wont in conversation to allude [Page 56] to this imposition of the medium's idiosyncrasies on spirit communications as so much “stained glass". It is probable, we may note in passing, that even in those cases of deepest trance which appear to exemplify the most complete control of medium by spirit, whatever communications are obtained are coloured to some extent by the human intermediary; for, though the spirit uses his own mental body, he is limited by the medium's brain to a degree only less than if he were influencing from the astral without direct occupation of the body.

In the above remarks we have already largely covered the ground allotted to the phenomenon of inspirational speaking. This also does not imply trance, i.e., possession of the vocal organs, but results from the [Page 57] impression of ideas on the brain. Most of the speakers who figure at Spiritualistic Churches, when they do not speak under trance conditions, speak under the influence of their guides.

A higher form of inspiration - the real inspiration - not within the category of this kind of mediumship, is involved when a Master or advanced disciple sends a concept to the causal body of a person, to be worked out in speaking or writing "down here". The great geniuses of art are often inspired in the sense that they come into active relation with the world of archetypal ideas.

There remains one other phase of mediumship to be considered, namely that which can be called mediumistic clairvoyance. This is distinguished from ordinary psychism merely by the [Page 58] fact that it is stimulated and assisted by the spirit “guides," who help the medium to bridge over from the astral to the etheric plane. They are thus helped to a sort of voluntary clairvoyance. More often, however, it would seem that the guides project explanatory pictures or symbols into such a level of etheric matter as is accessible to the medium's clairvoyance - or directly into his brain. There is one point, which it is very important to notice in connection with all this, as it gives us a touchstone whereby it is possible to distinguish one type of clairvoyance from another. A medium, using his unaided powers of observation, sees certain things, but is usually quite at sea as regards their meaning. He must needs use his own ratiocinative faculties to puzzle out their significance. [Page 59] We may take a typical case. The clairvoyant sees above one's head, say, a yellow star with a blue centre and a name inscribed within a scroll; then perhaps the star changes and has a circle around it, and so on. But the clairvoyant is no wiser than his client as to what it all means, though usually he is infinitely impressed with the importance of the vision. Not until a far higher development is reached is his psychism of that type which works in unison with the intuitive mind - when not only is there the vision, but, more significant, the understanding of the vision too. If the medium is assisted by his guide, then, of course, his efforts may be more successful, although often the guide also is no wiser regarding some peculiarity noticeable in the subject's aura. If the [Page 60] medium describes words traced in letters of fire, that usually implies the work of a more or less competent guide. Still, much good work is done by psychics of this class who identify dead relatives or friends for enquirers, and so bring comfort and assurance in what has been a sorrowful bereavement.

For the sake of comprehensiveness, we may mention that mediumistic clairaudience also exists and is a not uncommon gift. Information from the guides is then obtained through the sense of hearing. It is often linked with clairvoyance of the same order.

Before quitting the subject of mediumship an interesting statement made by Mr. A. P. Sinnett to the present writer maybe placed on record; namely, that just as there are physical plane [Page 61] mediums who are much sought after, so also on the astral plane there exist mediums or psychics who are greatly in demand for information about the mental plane! The statement throws an interesting sidelight on astral plane life. [Page 62]



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