It is almost proverbial among students of occultism that psychic people, as a class, are "difficult" and not easily understood. Their moods and actions are often strange and unaccountable, and this arises, of course, from the fact that they are an abnormal element among mankind. It may not be out of place here to set down a few notes directed towards the elucidation of this very interesting subject. To deal at all exhaustively with the psychology of psychism - and still more practically important, its pathology - would demand a lifetime of study. [Page 78]
The first point to be observed is that, in this study, science is treading upon what is to it virgin soil: as the study of occult psychology advances and psychism itself becomes more prevalent and more generally recognised - as it will do and is doing - there will follow, no doubt, a better understanding of those subtler elements in the working of human consciousness which now either escape, or are denied, attention. The point scarcely needs illustration, but it is interesting as well as illustrative to note how longer experience has given to Spiritualistic investigators a far deeper and wiser understanding of the complicated phases of mediumship. They have been led to suspect, for instance, that the occurrence of fraud at séances is not invariably to be attributed to simple depravity on the part of [Page79] the medium, as at first seemed the obvious assumption. They have begun to suspect that the medium is sometimes the unconscious agent of "controls" who either cannot produce genuine phenomena under the particular conditions prevailing and so guide the medium to simulate them by trickery, or who adopt the latter course as the less troublesome of the two to themselves. Further, investigators have reason to think that a medium in the negative trance state is sometimes unconsciously influenced and dominated by any strong thought of fraud framed by the sitters, and becomes in fact like a hypnotised subject. [ cf. some of the experiments with Eusapia Palladino] There is a good deal to be said in favour of this theory, for the borderland condition of trance, [Page 80] in which the subconscious assumes predominance over the conscious and voluntary, is very apt to be a non-moral condition. In Theosophical phraseology, the "elemental" of the body is in charge of the vacant tenement. From the standpoint of Theosophy the theory becomes invested with even greater plausibility. The subconscious represents the past in evolution, whereas the conscious represents more the present - and our ideals may be said to foreshadow the future. We have an interesting illustration of a state akin to that of the subconscious trance in watching the behaviour of a person whom it is difficult to wake in the morning. We may attribute the difficulty, say, to sluggish circulation of the blood, which prevents the voluntary [Page 81] side of the nature gaining rapid control over the involuntary; the result is, of course, that we get the subject in a state where it is easy to examine the sub-consciousness, for it is recognised by modern psychologists that the workings of the mind in the dream state, and therefore also in semi-sleep, appertain to the subconscious region. A man in this condition, then, frequently shows the barest regard for truth, and will say anything, make any promise, to one who is trying to arouse him, with the sole object of getting rid of the interrupter - in fact, in that state of semi-responsibility he is shamelessly untruthful, and often, too, extremely irritable and selfish: characteristics which would seldom obtrude themselves during the normal activity of consciousness. [Page 82]
Now, I do not wish to imply that the ordinary psychic is subject to these particular characteristics, but he is apt to be abnormal in conduct, and to judge him by ordinary standards implies a want of understanding. He, too, is frequently the victim of his own imperfectly understood nature, and his defects require exceptional treatment. His psychism is in many cases the result of training and practice in past lives, so that while it exists as a potent factor in determining action or outlook on life, it is one operating more from the sub-consciousness or subliminal mind than from that "above the threshold". The skandhas from the past, whether in the way of psychic tendency or instinctive knowledge upon occult matters, impel him to various lines of action, which he is sometimes unable fully to justify [Page 83] from the standpoint of ordinary reasoning.
One notable characteristic of the psychic is his changeability of mood and outlook, which may even vary from day to day in the most contradictory manner. Now, whilst this is more frequent in the psychic, it is not in itself an uncommon feature of human nature. A man who changes his religion – who, for instance, converts to Roman Catholicism - or who suddenly loses faith in the Theosophical Society, finds himself in an incredibly short time quite honestly and conscientiously negating many of his previously most cherished convictions. What has happened is a deep-reaching change of outlook. So the psychic, more susceptible to the ever-alternating currents of emotion and thought - changes of [Page 84] tattva, as they are sometimes called - adopts a certain standpoint on one day, and if he examines himself critically is astonished to find himself thinking quite differently on the following day. An intelligent psychic is quite likely to be his own severest critic upon the question of these voltes-face. Now this change is usually not due to himself at all, for he is merely a victim of his own psychism. It is due to an external thought-influence, cast upon him by some person near to him, or perhaps by some astral being in the vicinity, or it may be caused by his coming into relation with large thought-forms created by "public opinion" or collectively by bodies of people. Frequently the very act of self-examination, on the part of the more critical psychic, dispels the influence; the mind becomes [Page 85] positive in the process of analysis, and there takes place, in fact, "discrimination between the self and the not-self" - he separates himself in thought from the external influence, and so, becoming positive towards it, cuts it adrift. In other cases contact with a more advanced person will wipe the mind and feelings clear of the illusion the more powerful magnetism strengthening the weaker. A few simple experiences, such as these, will explain the meaning of the words "illusion" and "glamour," so constantly used in occultism.
This liability to extreme changeableness is only a transitory stage in psychic unfoldment, and gradually disappears as the psychism becomes more controlled. It is necessary that the bodies should become sensitive to [Page 86] impressions - acutely sensitive, indeed - and one result of this is that at a certain stage the student is painfully affected by his surroundings; e.g., he finds life in a large town impossible or at the least very difficult to endure, and shrinks from contact with certain people whose astral bodies are too powerfully vibrant on sub-planes which are not the most exalted, or whose mental bodies tear his own as they express a strongly vitalised form of crude destructive criticism. The psychic always has a tendency to group around him a few congenial friends and to withdraw somewhat from the society of others; often, also, he is averse to meeting fresh people: this is because it is an effort to him to adjust his bodies to those not altogether in tune with his own, and because those of congenial [Page 87] temperament often assist in calling his psychism into activity. The resulting touch with the higher worlds causes him to experience a sense of completeness which is in welcome contrast to the lonely separateness of ordinary physical experience, and naturally serves greatly to improve the quality of, and therefore satisfaction in, his work.
But this ultra-sensitiveness passes away - or rather passes under his control - as he progresses to the stage where the atmic forces, those of the will, can descend and automatically strengthen and render positive the aura.
Some other unprepossessing and not uncommon characteristics of psychics are vanity and conceit, and a firm belief in their own infallibility. The former qualities are not peculiar to psychics; they become a [Page 88] temptation to anybody who gains a position of influence and ascendancy over others before arriving at that level of evolution where the lessons of humility and self-restraint are learned. It is a familiar spectacle, for instance, amongst church workers, wives of the clergy, heads of nursing institutions, etc.
Belief in the infallibility of psychic communications springs from ignorance and mental haziness; there is the confusion of abnormal derivation with abnormal wisdom. This is often found among those people who develop the power of automatic writing. They do not stop to realise that the death of the physical body is only an incident in a man's career and does not bestow upon him omniscience and infallibility, or transform him suddenly into an angel [Page 89] of light; he is much the same man as he was previously and is living only under somewhat different conditions of consciousness.
Obviously this superstition will be found among unthinking people only, but there is another element in the psychic's nature, which is very deep-seated - I mean the authoritativeness with which he invests his communications. This is widespread among psychics because there is a strong element of truth underlying the phenomenon. Such communications are possessed of superior authority for the recipient; the mistake comes in when he applies this to other people. Let us look more closely into the rationale of this. So long as man is living in the separated consciousness of the personality, there lurks in the depths of his being a sense [Page 90] of incompleteness - it is the voice of nature bearing witness to his pilgrimage in a land of exile. There are moments when this is to a considerable extent made good to him, moments of great exaltation caused by music or art or by a surge of deep affection or patriotism, whose effect is to link him up with his higher consciousness. A similar self-completion occurs through the psychic interrelation of the bodies, which enables the consciousness to leap over from the one to the other. It is a sense of self-realisation, a feeling of added life and power. We know that experience on the higher planes is more vivid than on the physical, in virtue of the greater subtlety of the matter of those planes. Consequently, any genuine psychic touch with the higher worlds implies a down-rush [Page 91] of power into the physical organism, and this augmented descent of the life-power is naturally most impressive from the standpoint of the physical plane consciousness. Knowledge which reaches the man with these accompaniments is naturally more highly esteemed than that reaching him through the ordinary channels of communication: in point of actual fact such knowledge may or may not be of importance; the method of gaining it is of importance, for it represents for the man the opening up of the faculties of the future, and in many instances, the Ego may take advantage of the newly-developed channels of communication to impress upon the waking consciousness matters of importance for his progress. The higher the source of the psychic impression, the greater the [Page 92] sense of conviction and authoritativeness. If the knowledge proceeds from the depths of one's own being it carries its own credentials, and bears the marks of all genuine inner experience. But let us suppose that the information is distorted in the process of transmission; what then? A “twist" in transmission means that obstruction is offered by aggregations of matter which are not flexible and therefore cause friction. Friction diminishes energy. Consequently there is less power and less conviction, when the knowledge reaches its physical destination. In terms of consciousness, the intuition is “clouded," and message does not ring thoroughly true.
Further, if the communication proceed through mediumistic methods from no very high level, there will be a [Page 93] certain access of power, it is true, but none of that compelling force which is perceptible when the message originates from the depths of one's own consciousness, unless, indeed, it be a communication to which the intuition gives strong assent.
Thus the valuation of all these phenomena is a matter of inner perception, demanding an organism well sensitised to the play of the intuition and synthetic judgment. The reader may be prone to object, at the first thought, that we are here dealing with niceties of perception altogether beyond the range, so to say, of practical politics. A little reflection, however, will show that we are accustomed to dealing with similar niceties in our everyday life. Consider, for a moment, the sense of taste; how [Page 94] our memory registers scores of taste impressions and how the sense of taste distinguishes with marvelous fidelity and subtlety one impression from another. The fact is, the human organism is designed and constructed to deal with an illimitable range of ever-increasing subtlety, and the intuition in the higher reaches of psychic perception works with astonishing clarity and definiteness. But it is vitally important that the organism shall be made sensitive to the play of intuition.
This brings us to another point which is often a problem to those who are not psychic. How, it is asked, is it possible to distinguish between a psychic impression and imagination? The explanation is simple. If a man sets himself to imagine a log of wood or [Page 95] the figure of a person standing before him, the experience is one of ordinary everyday value; it may be a cold intellectual process, or it may evoke a certain interest and warmth of feeling, according to the temperament of the person: it is sequential with ordinary thinking, and whatever vividness or reality result come only as the cumulative effect of steady thinking and feeling. A psychical experience is quite different: It is not usually a constructive process but a sudden opening up of a new sense, the irruption of something into the waking consciousness. Moreover, as we have just been seeing, it brings with it a down-flow of force, which is quite unmistakable. The process of imagination is a normal, slowly unfolding process, the psychic experience is the opening up of a new [Page 96] dimension of consciousness, so to speak, and is quite unlike any ordinary mental process. We spoke of it as an irruption. A psychic may be concentrated most intently upon writing a letter or adding figures, and then be suddenly made aware of an impact from without, caused by the arrival of some astral being or thought-form. Now, imagination does not act in this way; it never violently interrupts and diverts the attention from work on which it is firmly concentrated - at least the imagination of the average Teuton does not.
It may be conceded as a matter of experience that it is often difficult in the earliest stages to distinguish between imagination and psychic activity; but as the perceptions grow clearer, they become more definite and forceful and altogether distinct. [Page 97]
This difference between imagination and psychic perception will, perhaps, be made additionally clear by reference to a line of experiment which may be pursued. In the experience of the developing psychic there are days when it is very difficult to bring the psychic sense into activity. [This depends largely upon the health and harmonious activity of the body; at times, also, upon planetary aspects, climatic conditions and the general influence of surroundings] On such occasions it may be stimulated by a careful use of the imagination. Suppose the psychic were trying to see the colours of an aura, but fell just short of success. Having placed himself in sympathetic relation with the subject, he may decide deliberately to imagine one colour after another into the aura, keeping at the same time his psychic and intuitive judgment at the utmost [Page 98] vigilance. He will perhaps distinctly notice that certain colours "fit" better than others. The relation is established by a flow of force made possible by sympathetic vibration; it may quite possibly happen that just the necessary impulse to bring the psychism into play has been given, and that suddenly he perceives the colour clairvoyantly, but with an effect quite different to that produced by the use of the imaginative power. Of course, this is a somewhat risky and difficult experiment, inasmuch as it is courting self-deception, and it therefore demands a nice discrimination, but it is often quite justified by its results. It serves to illustrate our point. [Page 99]
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