Occultism and Psychic Phenomena

By G. de Purucker
But the interest of our readers will probably centre on those who are invincibly attracted towards the 'Occult,' yet who neither realize the true nature of what they aspire towards, nor have they become passion-proof, far less truly unselfish.
How about these unfortunates, we shall be asked, who are thus rent in twain by conflicting forces? For it has been said too often to need repetition, and the fact itself is patent to any observer, that when once the desire for Occultism has really awakened in a man's heart, there remains for him no hope of peace, no place of rest and comfort in all the world. He is driven out into the wild and desolate spaces of life by an ever-gnawing unrest he cannot quell. His heart is too full of passion and selfish desire to permit him to pass the Golden Gate; he cannot find rest or peace in ordinary life. Must he then inevitably fall into Sorcery and Black Magic and through many incarnations heap up for himself a terrible Karma? Is there no other road for him?
Indeed there is, we answer. Let him aspire to no higher than he feels able to accomplish. Let him not take a burden upon himself too heavy for him to carry. Without ever becoming a 'Mahatma,' a Buddha, or a Great Saint, let him study the philosophy and the 'Science of Soul,' and he can become one of the modest benefactors of humanity, without any 'superhuman' powers. Siddhis (or the Arhat powers) are only for those who are able to 'lead the life,' to comply with the terrible sacrifices required for such a training, and to comply with them to the very letter. Let them know at once and remember always, that true Occultism or Theosophy is the 'Great Renunciation of SELF,' unconditionally and absolutely, in thought as in action. It is ALTRUISM, and it throws him who practises it out of calculation of the ranks of the living altogether. 'Not for himself, but for the world, he lives,' as soon as he has pledged himself to the work. Much is forgiven during the first years of probation. But, no sooner is he 'accepted' than his personality must disappear, and he has to become a mere beneficent force in Nature. There are two poles for him after that, two paths, and no midward place of rest. He has either to ascend laboriously, step by step, often through numerous incarnations and no Devachanic break, the golden ladder leading to Mahatmaship (the Arhat or Bodhisatva condition) or -- he will let himself slide down the ladder at the first false step, and roll down into Dugpaship. . . . -- 'Occultism versus the Occult Arts,' by H. P. Blavatsky, Lucifer, May, 1888

To lay before the intelligent readers of any modern review which consecrates at least a portion of its pages to studies in what is popularly known as Occultism and psychic phenomena, even an outline of what it is today customary to call Occultism, would involve an explication of thought filling an entire issue of such a magazine as is The Occult Review; and even then, in order adequately and properly to understand just what Occultism is and is not, such explication of thought would doubtless consist in a startling opposition of Occultism on the one hand, and merely Psychic Practices and Results the other hand. The title of such a lengthy thesis therefore would probably be something like 'Occultism versus Psychic Practices and their Results.'

There is entirely too much confusion in the minds of people generally as regards these matters, and invariably is too faint a distinction drawn between Occultism on the one hand and psychic practices and phenomena on the other hand.

Many years ago, before the modern protagonist of Occultism, H. P. Blavatsky, began her work in the Occident with the founding of the Theosophical Society, the words 'Occultism,' 'Psychism, 'Psychic Phenomena,' etc., etc., were used not at all or by only a few -- in fact were virtually unknown except to the bookworm or the scholar; but since the founding of the Theosophical Society at New York in 1875 by H. P. Blavatsky, Colonel H. S. Olcott, W. Q. Judge, and others, these words among many other similar terms has gained wide currency. But their very frequency of occurrence modern literature, without adequate explanations, is the cause of the confusion that I have just spoken of.

Who indeed is the genuine Occultist of today who would be authorized by actual esoteric training and experience to give to the world a clear, full, and lucid explanation of what Occultism is; and, on the other hand, to explain the meaning of the results, mostly disastrous, alas, which follow as inevitable consequences the subjection of both mind and will to what it is today customary and popular to call 'Psychism,' 'Psychic Practices,' or the 'Psychical Arts.' There are, indeed, genuine Occultists in the world, and for the matter of that they can be found as readily in the Occident as in the Orient perchance, but they are always more or less recluse and rarely or never make themselves known to the public. The only exceptions are the profound students of genuine esoteric Theosophy whose duty obligates them and in a sense compels them to devote at least a portion of their time in unfolding and explaining the various meanings of these things.

But, setting aside these instances, the great foundress of the Theosophical Society in our modern times, H. P. Blavatsky, has left a sufficiency of literary and traditional material on hand to enable anyone who is genuinely desirous of knowing what Occultism and psychic phenomena are, to gain this knowledge by a sincere and impersonal study of her works. The extract from an essay by H. P. Blavatsky which prefaces this article is an instance in point, and I recommend it most earnestly to those would-be 'adepts' or 'yogis' who imagine and always vainly imagine that a perusal or study of the exoteric literature of Occultism of the ages is sufficient to clothe them with the responsibilities, and rights and privileges forsooth, of the genuine Occultist.

H. P. Blavatsky with her master-mind and her wonderful literary ability, has set before the world, in the literary material left by her, as for instance in the extract above named, the very heart of the whole teaching regarding genuine Occultism -- what it is and especially what it is not. Occultism means the study of the hid and secret processes of the Universe and of the beings inhabiting it -- of the Universe, which includes the worlds visible and invisible, and the beings visible and invisible inhabiting them, and therefore, of course, also our own visible world, and more particularly our earth, so far as we humans are concerned. Genuine Occultism, therefore, first and foremost, and before any other thing, means a study not only of the structure and operations, of the laws, of the origin, of the destiny, and, indeed, most important of all, of the moral purposes, of the Kosmos, but it also involves, as is obvious, a rigorous and continuous study of men, comprising in their aggregate one of the families or minor hierarchies of beings temporarily inhabiting this physical sphere of existence.

It is of the first importance to state here with all the emphasis and power at my command that the study of Occultism without equivalent study of morals, ethics -- which are no mere human convention, but are based on the very fabric of the Universe itself and on its inherent laws of harmony -- is a study which will lead the unfortunate followers of it only to Satanism, to diabolism, and indeed ultimately, if pursued bereft or divorced from morals, to the loss of the soul and a sinking lower and lower in the scale of manifested beings.

Who are we? Whence do we come? Why are we here? Whither are we going? What is the Universe surrounding us in which we live and move and have our being, and of which we are all of us and each one of us integral and utterly inseparable portions? In the answer to these questions lies the very heart of true and genuine archaic Occultism, the only Occultism that is worthy of the name, and the only Occultism which the followers of the Masters of Wisdom and Compassion and Peace have pledged themselves to. The genuine Occultism of the archaic ages has naught to do with merely weird and uncanny things, as it is commonly and mistakenly supposed have to do -- nothing at all to do with them, except to examine them and to reject them as being psychical superficialities at the best, and psychical and ethical monstrosities or corruptions of truth at the worst. Genuine Occultism has to do solely with the secrets of Universal Being, and the closer one approaches to the great beating heart of the Universe, the more does one become an Occultist, and the more deeply does one penetrate into the inner sense and nature of what genuine Occultism is.

The so-called 'occult arts' or 'occult practices' which the soi-disant magicians of all times and of all parts of the earth have followed, some with relative success in small ways and some with none, lie on the frontiers only of the great truths of universal being. These so-called psychic practices and phenomena -- what indeed are they? Merely the action in and through man of certain little understood and very minor powers of his constitution, and this is all that they are. They are far, indeed, from being things or objectives that we should strive after; they are not worth the game; and, what is much worse, they distract the attention of the genuine student away from the great realities instead of expanding the mind and leading the heart to beat with the great Universal Heart in rhythmic harmony.

These psychic practices and the phenomena and consequences resulting therefrom, even when moderately successful, constrict the ethereal and psychical sheaths of consciousness clothing the imbodied ray of Spirit, and therefore limit our views, enclose us within frontiers of consciousness of small diameter, and for this reason work upon us and in us exactly in the opposite manner to what every genuine disciple of Archaic Occultism strives after, to wit, an expansion of the egoic or human self to become like unto its own native essence, its 'Father in Heaven.' Nay, the genuine occult student strives to become ever more at one with the Self of the Galactic Universe, our own Home-Universe -- not only to become like unto it, but to be in consciousness at one with it. For verily, as the ancient Vedic Sages of Hindusthan taught so nobly, Tat twam asi -- THAT, the Boundless, and thou are one!

Such is the path of the genuine Occultist; such indeed is genuine Occultism. It is an opening out or expansion of one's inner being, of one's consciousness, and a losing or etherealizing rather of the sheaths enclosing this consciousness; it is a developing, a growing, an expanding, an enlarging, a becoming ever greater: in fact, this path is a method and a training which result in an enormously quickened spiritual, intellectual, and psychical evolution of man's constitution, to become not different from the Universe in any sense or in any wise, but to become ever more and more at one with it. Yea, verily, that is what the student of genuine Occultism strives after -- a quickened spiritual and intellectual, aye, and psychical evolution; but this evolution, if it is to be a safe, sane, and real path, is along the path of greatness that I have just hinted at, along the path where true inner greatness is to be found, along the path of inner development and growth.

The running after psychic practices and phenomena, so-called, and a devotion of one's energies and faculties to them, amounts really to a deplorable waste of precious time; the concentration of one's faculties on these things simply reverses the inner machinery of one's consciousness, so to speak, and, to adopt a phrase that will be readily understood today, throws the psychical engine into the reverse, and one goes backwards rather than forwards. The occult arts are easy to practise once one knows the secrets of them, and these secrets are easily discovered; and the causes of psychic phenomena are even more easily found out -- such phenomena as the petty clairvoyance the fallible and often fallacious clairaudience, the insignificant thought-readings. Things like these are psychical results belonging merely to our intermediate human sheath of consciousness -- and the worst of it all is that these are just the things that seem to fascinate the minds of men today. People are running after them, often losing their direction in the chase, if not indeed losing their mental balance; and at the end of the frantic course there looms the insane asylum, or perchance, what is much worse, there yawns the suicide's grave. Count, if you will and can, the broken heart s and, distracted minds on either hand along the way. There is naught that is spiritually and intellectually inspiring, there is naught that shines with the holy flame of impersonal devotion to abstract truth, in following these practices -- naught. Contrast them with the simple, grandeur of the teaching of the ancient Sages and Seers, the Masters. of the genuine Occultism of the ages of old: O, man, know thyself, for within thee lie all the secrets of the Universe and therefore of destiny, for thou thyself art that Universe, and its destiny is thine, and thine is its.

The Self, the divine, spiritual Self within us, is the path which we must follow if we yearn to reach the 'Heart' of the Universe. Learn, to know, O student, that thy fellow human beings and thou are in essence the same, nay, that thou and the entire Universe are essentially one. This is Occultism. This teaching contains the secrets of the things that are hid, the science of the things that are secret. This is the meaning of Occultism.

What is this word 'Occultism,' and what is this adjective 'occult' that belongs to it? They are not new; they belong historically to the medieval ages of European peoples. Petrus Peregrinus writes that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of our era Occultism meant simply the 'study of Nature,' what today would be called experimental science, the study of the things that were previously hid, unknown, secret; and the word 'occult' was then used with this meaning.

It was only later, owing to a number of converging karmic lines of destiny, that the thoughts of men in the Occident became more or less turned to strictly theological directions, and the experimental research into Nature and her manifestations and her secrets had to wait for renewed life, until about the time of the French Revolution, more or less, or until some relatively short time before that.

The scientists of today, chemists, biologists, astronomers, physicists, what not, are 'Occultists' therefore in the etymological meaning of the word; and however slightly they may pass beyond the frontiers of the known, however little they may go beyond the veil of the visible, nevertheless, etymologically speaking they are experimental 'Occultists,' i.e., researchers into the unseen, discoverers of the unknown, finders of new truth -- discovering what is hid, laying bare what is secret. It is of course obvious that the mere etymological meaning of the word, while interesting enough, does not contain the sublime sense which the genuine Occultist of the archaic and even of modern times signifies when he uses the words 'Occultism' or 'Occult' -- the Brahma-Vidya, the Divine Science.

The genuine Occultist of our Theosophical School is indeed also an experimental scientist because he, too, is a discoverer of hid things, and because he, too, plunges into the deep abysms of Nature's heart; but instead of limiting his work and his discoveries to the material sphere, he knows that Mother-Nature is a vast organic Entity of which our outward physical sphere is but the exterior carapace, the outer veil, or sheath, or garment, or body; and that the Great Worlds, the invisible worlds, are they which contain the causal elements of all Being, and of all beings, producing in our outer sphere whatever we see around us.

Therefore, pursuing our thought a little farther, we see that Occultism means an exploration of the inner and invisible worlds of Being, and a becoming cognisant of what therein lies, including the hosts of beings inhabiting these inner and invisible spheres; and one cannot be an Occultist unless he become exactly what H. P. Blavatsky points to in the extract with which I preface this article, an impersonal servitor of the world. This is for the simple reason that one cannot one cannot follow the Path, one cannot pursue the Road, one cannot go on to success in such sublime discovery, unless one is thoroughly impersonal, wholly devoted, to the last atom, to the grand service of all that is, and unless one's heart be filled with an impersonal love which knows no bounds and no qualifications of time or place. One cannot see into the inner worlds if one's thoughts are continuously dancing a mad dance of emotion or of mental disturbances, a veritable danse macabre, a crazy capering in the mind of little thoughts about little things, frontiered and surrounded by the limited personal human consciousness of the man whose thoughts are for self and not for the world. Forgetfulness of self, a plunging into the unknown with high courage, and with the flaming fire of the spirit lighting the path before one's feet, and complete and absolute trust in the god within, mark the genuine Occultist. It is verily so. Only the wholly impersonal man can understand this, and therefore only the impersonal man can succeed in the Great Labor. A heart washed clean of all human desires for merely personal profit and all evil things, a soul washed clean of all selfish yearning, a mind devoted absolutely and for ever to truth, utter truth, sheer truth, whatever cost to oneself -- such is the Occultist. Verily such he is!

The causes of the psychic phenomena that have been noted in all ages by intelligent observers arise in the erratic functioning of the principles of the constitution of men and women in whom these principles are more or less loosely knitted together, and which, because of this fact, often function in an erratic and imperfect manner. In such beings the principles of the constitution act irregularly, erratically, imperfectly, and produce strange and unusual effects on the human brain, resulting therefore in unusual and strange conditions and productions -- 'phenomena.'

Such in brief are the psychical phenomena and their causes; and, consequently a study of the psychical practices and phenomena is a study of the lower sheaths of man's consciousness; but one learns no grand truths of Nature in this study, nor is it productive of any lasting benefit either to the individual or to the human race. These arts or practices, and the phenomena accompanying them, tell us naught about the great truths of the universe; they unfold naught of the origin of things, nor about the nature of the world, nor of its character, nor of its structure, nor of its operations, nor of its laws. Nothing! In what way can a man learn the destiny of the immortal divinity shining within him by going into a darkened room, or into a room which is lighted, seeking phenomena therein, or by subjecting his individual will and brain to the utterly irresponsible and most frequently evil denizens of the astral world? All such arts and phenomena indeed exist. Their existence is not in dispute. But in what lies their value? Is there in them any irrefutable proof of the survival of consciousness after physical dissolution, to use an old phrase of our fathers? None at all. No real proof at all, because in the first place men do not know what real immortality means; they think it means unchanging continuance of the human soul as now it is-and what a hell that would be! Fancy being for ever, and for ever, and for ever what one is now!

The teaching of Occultism is just the contrary of this. Its teaching tells us of an endless growth, endless improvement, endless development, endless evolution, therefore an endless changing of consciousness, going ever higher and higher out of the human sphere into the semi-divine, and out of the semi-divine worlds into the divine, and thereafter into the super-divine, and so on ad infinitum. There is no such thing as immortality as commonly understood. The only immortal thing is the Universe itself; but even this is by no means immortal as it now is, because it itself is constantly changing, and its essence is its life, which is of the very essence of change which means growth, which means evolution.

Here again one has an idea of what genuine archaic Occultism meant, and, indeed, is and means today. The more deeply we penetrate into ourselves, the more deeply do we penetrate behind the veil of outward Nature, for the inmost of us and the inmost of Nature are essentially one and not twain. As I have said above, this is the path that the genuine Occultist follows, that small, old, still Path of the ancient Sages which traverses the limitless fields of boundless SPACE, inner space and outer space, the Space-Time of Consciousness-Substance.

No man who lives an evil life, thereby enfeebling his powers, crippling his will, constricting and materializing the sheaths of consciousness so that they enfold with an ever greater constriction or inward pressure, can ever be an Occultist. Occultism demands the highest ethics, the purest morality, as I have before stated, a heart washed clean of all selfish yearnings, a life devoted to the service of all things in the universe, of all that lives, and a constantly expanding intelligence. He indeed who can follow this path and who does so, is an Occultist.

Leaving aside with bare mention the unutterable loneliness that in the first stages assails the dauntless adventurer into these wonderful realms, leaving aside the personal wrenches that take place -- a loneliness and a pain which in time disappear and are replaced with a sense of one's oneness with the All and with a glorious feeling of expanding powers -- leaving these aside, I say, I point to the ineffable beauty of this life, to the incomparable and indescribable peace, the infinite peace, the great rest, the expansion of understanding, and the self-conscious becoming at one with the Great Mystery.

The old Welsh bards used to sing that to the initiate's ear there comes the audible song of the growing grass, and that the circling of the orbs in the sky was likewise heard as a great musical symphony; and verily it is so. Even our modern scientists today tell us that every smallest electron is in constant movement, and that every movement of a substantial particle is accompanied with a sound, a note, a musical note indeed, so that every smallest atom sings its own characteristic enduring hymn; and hence any combination of atoms forms a harmony, a symphony. Thus it is that even our physical bodies, had we the ears to hear it, would be heard by us as a wondrous symphonic orchestration of music, a marvelous symphonic melody of musical numbers.

"Live the life and you will know the doctrine," but you will never know it if you do not live the life in its amazing and fascinating richness, and 'living the life' means a great deal more than merely following conventional ethics. Conventional ethics are indeed good and important, for they put a rein upon man's vagrant and impulsive passions, and check his wandering and erratic mind; but 'living the life' means vastly more than this. It means, first of all things, an absolute sincerity with oneself, so that a man himself becomes his severest or first critic, then a surrender of all that is unworthy, to, be replaced by whatever enriches the life, makes it fuller and vaster in reach of consciousness, thereby bringing into function and play, powers and faculties and energies which in the majority of men, alas, are but little more than dreams or even entirely unknown. And finally, 'living the life' means a determination of will and a direction of the mind towards the single objective, that naught can change, because genuine Occultism means the bringing out of the loftiest that is in a man; therefore the genuine Occultist can follow no man's mere say-so, nor can he ever subject in slavish fashion his will to the mandates or dictates of another. This does not mean, however, that the Occultist has no teachers. Quite the contrary; for one of the first rules or laws of the occult doctrine points out the absolute need to the student, however advanced he may be, of the guidance and help of others farther advanced along the path of wisdom and peace and knowledge than he himself is.

The Occultist follows the mandates of the god within, his supreme Master; but precisely because he is beginning to know self-consciously his own inner Master, he is enabled to recognise masterhood and spiritual and intellectual greatness in others, and to welcome the guidance and help of those others more advanced than himself.

I often hear it said in these days of popular criticism, even among the ranks of Theosophical students, who, alas, sometimes criticize each other unfairly and unfriendly, that it is sufficient unto a man to trust wholly to the god within him, and that teachers we need not. Alas, the statement is but a half-truth. Indeed, the statement is accurate enough as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough; for indeed every genuine Occultist needs teachers, no matter how far he may have progressed along the pathway to Father-Sun. The Occultist recognises a hierarchy of sublime beings ascending from unusually noble men in direct serial line and succession to the noblest and loftiest gods of our Universe and beyond; and he becomes exquisitely sensitive as time goes on of the existence of these lofty beings, and develops a keen sensibility of the fact that the Hierarchy of Teachers or of Masters in the world and above it forms a part of the very structure and substance of the Universe itself, and that his own progress is dependent upon the utterly faithful and loyal part which he himself takes in recognising his oneness, as an individual, with this Hierarchy, and in receiving instruction from above with the same impersonal devotion to his Teachers that he himself renders to those below him.

Yes, all students need Teachers, although, indeed, the greatest Teacher of a man is his own inner god; those who have traveled upon the Mystic Path know this and are grateful, and direct their faces with gratitude to those who in compassion and in the greatness of their souls, turn around, as it were, and offer a hand, a helping hand, to those behind them on the Path.

As regards the average man, he whose progress is not yet sufficient to have awakened within him the spiritual and psychical senses and faculties which not only merit but which will indeed command the aid of a superior Teacher, there is always the wisdom of the great Sages and Seers of the ages, and in this, with the help of the sublime Theosophical philosophy used as a key, the student-researcher can delve as in a mine and thus discover treasures worth more than all the hoarded wealth of the Golcondas of earth-life.

Now, as to the word 'psychic,' or more accurately the psyche, what is it? It is a Greek word signifying what we Theosophist's, when referring to the constitution of man, call the intermediate part of that constitution, i.e., the lower human soul. James of the Christians says in his Letter, chapter iii, verse 15: "This wisdom cometh not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish"; and the Greek words are: ouk estin aute e sophia anothen katerchomene, all epigeios, psuchike, daimoniodes. The word here translated 'sensual' is 'psychical' in the Greek. But the 'wisdom' that cometh from on high, which man already has inherent within the spiritual core of his being, is the wisdom of impersonal devotion, is a love for one's fellow-beings, is a love indeed that knows no bounds, a love that takes within its encompassing reach not only all mankind but the beasts and the plants and the rocks, yea, which reaches out to the very stars in the skies, a wisdom that knows no hatreds, a love that is a hater of hate, and a lover of love. This is the 'wisdom' from above, charitable, kindly, peaceful, pure, holy, clean, very sweet. It leads us into the Great Peace, the Great Peace which is the silencing of all the senses so that the inner voice may be heard for ever more. It is the wisdom which acquaints one intuitively with the profoundest and largest secrets of cosmic Nature and makes them familiar to us. It is the wisdom of selfless dedication of all that one is to the co-operative service of all that lives. This, with other things too sacred here to write of, is Occultism.

Occultism, therefore, briefly explained, is the study and investigation of the things that are secret, that are hid; but we must follow it aright, with clean heart and impersonal motives, otherwise there is every chance that we may be drawn into the side-paths, into the lower wisdom, and, at the best, waste our time in psychical practices and experimentation; and, at the worst, end in sheer sorcery. Many men will doubt this statement probably, and yet sorcery or diabolism is an actuality on the earth. Men and women are found today practising evil magic upon each other by word, by suggestion, by example, by precept, by misleading and misteaching others, thus degrading, and deliberately degrading, human souls; and if there be a worse sorcery than this, I know it not. The Occultist must have a pure soul, an inflexible will, to succeed in attaining his sublime objective, and a heart in which compassion, and love its alter ego, reign supreme; a soul washed clean of all personal desires. Then he is safe, and, what is even more important, his fellow human beings are also safe and can trust him. A Theosophist, likewise, is not one who talks about Theosophy, nor one who knows our exoteric Theosophical books by heart, nor one who can converse or lecture learnedly upon Theosophical topics; but the Theosophist is he who does it. "Theosophist is who Theosophy does," as H. P. Blavatsky once so nobly wrote; and I think that this is the test by which we may know the genuine Theosophist, or, indeed, the genuine Occultist, for the twain are really one. He practises the doctrine that he preaches.

  • (From Studies in Occult Philosophy by G. de Purucker; reprinted from The Occult Review, London, April, 1933)

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