Did the Ancients know of worlds besides their own? . . . That time is gone by for ever, when, although our pious ancestors believed that our earth was in the center of the universe, the church and her arrogant servants could insist that we should regard as a blasphemy the supposition that any other planet could be inhabited. Adam and Eve, the Serpent, and the Original Sin followed by atonement through blood, have been too long in the way, and thus was universal truth sacrificed to the insane conceit of us little men.
Now what are the proofs thereof? Except inferential evidence and logical reasoning, there are none for the profane. To the Occultists, who believe in the knowledge acquired by countless generations of Seers and Initiates, the data offered in the Secret Books are all-sufficient. The general public needs other proofs, however . . . . We may approach the subject from its general aspect, and see whether belief in it is so very absurd, as some scientists along with other Nicodemuses would have it. Unconsciously, perhaps, in thinking of a plurality of inhabited "Worlds," we imagine them to be like the globe we inhabit and peopled by beings more or less resembling ourselves. And in so doing we are only following a natural instinct. Indeed, so long as the enquiry is confined to the life-history of this globe we can speculate on this question with some profit, and ask ourselves what were the "Worlds" spoken of in all the ancient scriptures of humanity, with some hope of at least asking an intelligible question. But how do we know (a) what kind of Beings inhabit the globes in general; and (b) whether those who rule planets superior to our own, do not exercise the same influence on our earth consciously, that we may exercise unconsciously -- say on the small planets (planetoids or asteroids) in the long run, by our cutting the Earth to pieces, opening canals, and thereby entirely changing our climates. Of course, like Caesar's wife, the planetoids cannot be affected by our suspicion. They are too far, etc., etc. Believing in esoteric astronomy, however, we are not so sure of that.
But when, extending our speculations beyond our planetary chain, we try to cross the limits of the solar system, then indeed we act as do presumptuous fools. For -- while accepting the old Hermetic axiom: "As above, so below" -- we may well believe that as Nature on Earth displays the most careful economy, utilizing every vile and waste thing in her marvelous transformations, and withal never repeating herself, we may justly conclude that there is no other globe in all her infinite systems so closely resembling this earth that the ordinary powers should be able to imagine and reproduce its semblance and containment.
And indeed we find in the romances as in all the so-called scientific fictions and spiritistic revelations from moon, stars, and planets, merely fresh combinations or modifications of the men and things, the passions and forms of life with which we are familiar, when even on the other planets of our own system nature and life are entirely different from ours. Swedenborg was pre-eminent in inculcating such an erroneous belief.
But even more. The ordinary man has no experience of any state of consciousness other than that to which the physical senses link him. Men dream; they sleep the profound sleep which is too deep for dreams to impress the physical brain; and in these states there must still be consciousness. How, then, while these mysteries remain unexplored, can we hope to speculate with profit on the nature of globes which, in the economy of nature, must needs belong to states of consciousness other and quite different from any which man experiences here? . . .
Still the fact remains that most of the planets, as the stars beyond our system, are inhabited, a fact which has been admitted by the men of science themselves. Laplace and Herschel believed it, though they wisely abstained from imprudent speculation; and the same conclusion has been worked out and supported with an array of scientific considerations by C. Flammarion, the well-known French Astronomer. The arguments he brings forward are strictly scientific, and such as to appeal even to a materialistic mind, which would remain unmoved by such thoughts as those of Sir David Brewster, the famous physicist, who writes:
Those "barren spirits" or "base souls," as the poet calls them, who might be led to believe that the Earth is the only inhabited body in the universe, would have no difficulty in conceiving the earth also to have been destitute of inhabitants. What is more, if such minds were acquainted with the deductions of geology, they would admit that it was uninhabited for myriads of years; and here we come to the impossible conclusion that during these myriads of years there was not a single intelligent creature in the vast domains of the Universal King, and that before the protozoic formations there existed neither plant nor animal in all the infinity of space! Since no single atom in the entire Kosmos is without life and consciousness, how much more then its mighty globes? -- though they remain scaled books to us men who can hardly enter even into the consciousness of the forms of life nearest us?
We do not know ourselves, then how can we, if we have never been trained to it and initiated, fancy that we can penetrate the consciousness of the smallestof the animals around us?
Flammarion shows, in addition, that all the conditions of life -- even as we know it -- are present on some at least of the planets, and points to the fact that these conditions must be much more favorable on them than they are on our Earth.
Thus scientific reasoning, as well as observed facts, concur with the statements of the seer and the innate voice in man's own heart in declaring that life -- intelligent, conscious life -- must exist on other worlds than ours.
But this is the limit beyond which the ordinary faculties of man cannot carry him. Many are the romances and tales, some purely fanciful, others bristling with scientific knowledge, which have attempted to imagine and describe life on other globes. But one and all, they give but some distorted copy of the drama of life around us. It is either, with Voltaire, the men of our own race under a microscope, or, with de Bergerac, a graceful play of fancy and satire; but we always find that at bottom the new world is but the one we ourselves live in. So strong is this tendency that even great natural, though non-initiated seers, when untrained, fall a victim to it; witness Swedenborg, who goes so far as to dress the inhabitants of Mercury, whom he meets with in the spirit-world, in clothes such as are worn in Europe.
Commenting on this tendency, Flarmmarion in his work Sur la Pluralite des Mondes habites, says:
It seems as if in the eyes of those authors who have written on this subject, the Earth were the type of the Universe, and the Man of Earth, the type of the inhabitants of the heavens. It is, on the contrary, much more probable, that, since the nature of other planets is essentially varied, and the surroundings and conditions of existence essentially different, while the forces which preside over the creation of beings and the substances which enter into their mutual constitution are essentially distinct, it would follow that our mode of existence cannot be regarded as in any way applicable to other globes. Those who have written on this subject have allowed themselves to be dominated by terrestrial ideas, and fell therefore into error.
But Flammarion himself falls into the very error which he here condemns, for he tacitly takes the conditions of life on earth as the standard by which to determine the degree to which other planets are adapted for habitation by "other Humanities.". . .
When, therefore, we find in the Bibles of Humanity "other worlds" spoken of, we may safely conclude that they not only refer to other states of our planetary chain and Earth, but also to other inhabited globes -- stars and planets; withal, that the latter were never speculated upon. The whole of antiquity believed in the Universality of life. But no really initiated seer of any civilized nation has ever taught that life on other stars could be judged by the standard of terrestrial life. That which is generally meant by "earths" and worlds, relates (a) to the "rebirths" of our globe after each manvantara and a long period of "obscuration"; and (b) to the periodical and entire changes of the Earth's surface, when Continents disappear, to make room for Oceans, and Oceans and Seas are violently displaced and sent rolling to the poles, to cede their emplacements to new Continents. . . .
Thus saith Idra Suta (in the Zohar, iii, 292, c.):
There were old worlds which perished as soon as they came into existence; worlds with and without form called Scintillas -- for they were like the sparks under the smith's hammer, flying in all directions. Some were the primordial worlds which could not continue long, because the "aged" -- his name be sanctified -- had not as yet assumed his form, (The "Heavenly man" is Adam Kadmon -- the synthesis of the Sephiroth, as "Manu Swayambhuva" is the synthesis of the Prajapatis.) the workman was not yet the "Heavenly man." (The form of Tikkun or the Protogonos, the "first-born," i.e., the universal form and idea, had not yet been mirrored in Chaos.)
Again in the Midrash, written long before the Kabala of Simeon Ben Iochai, Rabbi Abahu explains: "The Holy One, blessed be his name, has successively formed and destroyed sundry worlds before this one." (Bereshith Rabba, Parsba IX.)
. . . When, therefore, we read of the destruction of the worlds, this word has many meanings, which are very clear in several of the Commentaries on the Zohar and Kabalistic treatises. As said elsewhere, it means not only the destruction of many worlds which have ended their life-career, but also that of the several continents which have disappeared, as also their decline and geographical change of place. . . .
Leaving the mystic parables of the Zohar, we will return to the hard facts of materialistic science; first, however, citing a few from the long list of great thinkers who have believed in the plurality of inhabited worlds in general, and in worlds that preceded our own. These are, the great mathematicians Leibnitz and Bernouilli, Isaac Newton himself, as can be read in his Optics; Buffon, the naturalist; Condillac, the skeptic; Bailly, Lavater, Bernardin de St. Pierre, and, as a contrast to the two last named -- suspected at least of mysticism -- Diderot and most of the writers of the Encyclopaedia. Following these come Kant, the founder of modern philosophy; the poet philosophers, Goethe, Krause, Schelling; and many astronomers, from Bode, Fergusson and Herschel to Lalande and Laplace, with their many disciples in more recent years.
A brilliant list of honored names indeed; but the facts of physical astronomy speak even more strongly in favor of the presence of life, even organized life, on other planets. Thus in four meteorites which fell respectively at Alais in France, the Cape of Good Hope, in Hungary, and again in France, there was found, on analysis, graphite, a form of carbon known to be invariably associated with organic life on this earth of ours. And that the presence of this carbon is not due to any action occurring within our atmosphere is shown by the fact that carbon has been found in the very center of a meteorite; while in one which fell at Argueil, in the south of France, in 1857, there was found water and turf, the latter being always formed by the decomposition of vegetable substances.
And further, examining the astronomical conditions of the other planets, it is easy to show that several are far better adapted for the development of life and intelligence -- even under the conditions with which men are acquainted -- than is our earth. For instance, on the planet Jupiter the seasons, instead of varying between wide limits as do ours, change by almost imperceptible degrees, and last twelve times as long as ours. Owing to the inclination of its axis the seasons on Jupiter are due almost entirely to the eccentricity of its orbit, and hence change slowly and regularly. We shall be told that no life is possible on Jupiter, as it is in an incandescent state. But not all astronomers agree with this. For instance what we say, is said by M. Flammarion: and he ought to know.
On the other hand Venus would be less adapted for human life such as exists on earth, since its seasons are more extreme and its changes of temperature more sudden. . . .
But such facts and the considerations to which they give rise, have reference only to the possibility of the existence on these planets of human life as known on earth. That some forms of life such as we know are possible on these planets, has been long since abundantly demonstrated, and it seems perfectly useless to go into detailed questions of the physiology, etc., etc., of these hypothetical inhabitants, since after all the reader can arrive only at an imaginary extension of his familiar surroundings. It is better to rest content with the three conclusions which M. C. Flammarion, whom we have so largely quoted, formulates as rigorous and exact deductions from the known facts and laws of science.
1) The various forces which were active in the beginning of evolution gave birth to a great variety of beings on the several worlds; both in the organic and inorganic kingdoms.
2) The animated beings were constituted from the first according to forms and organisms in correlation with the physiological state each inhabited globe.
3) The humanities of other worlds differ from us, as much in their inner organization as in their external physical type.
Finally the reader who may be disposed to question the validity of these conclusions as being opposed to the Bible, may be referred to an Appendix in M. Flammarion's work dealing in detail with this question. . . . In this connection we may well recall those days when the burning zeal of the Primitive Church opposed the doctrine of the earth's rotundity, on the ground that the nations at the Antipodes would be outside the pale of salvation; and again how long it took for a nascent science to break down the idea of a solid firmament, in whose grooves the stars moved for the special edification of terrestrial humanity.
The theory of the earth's rotation was met by a like opposition even to the martyrdom of its discoverers -- because, besides depriving our orb of its dignified central position in space, this theory produced an appalling confusion of ideas as to the Ascension -- the terms "up" and "down" being proved to be merely relative, thus complicating not a little the question of the precise locality of heaven. In that learned and witty work, God and his Book, by the redoubtable "Saladin" of Agnostic repute, the amusing calculation that, if Christ had ascended with the rapidity of a cannon ball, he would not have reached even Sirius yet, reminds one vividly of the past. It raises, perhaps, a not ill-founded suspicion that even our age of scientific enlightenment may be as grossly absurd in its materialistic negations, as the men of the middle ages were absurd and materialistic in their religious affirmations.
According to the best modem calculations, there are no less than 500,000,000 of stars of various magnitudes, within the range of the best telescopes. As to the distances between them, they are incalculable. Is, then, our microscopical Earth -- a "grain of sand on an infinite seashore" -- the only center of intelligent life? Our own Sun, itself 1,300,000 times larger than our planet, sinks into insignificance beside that giant Sun -- Sirius -- and the latter in its turn is dwarfed by other luminaries in infinite Space. The self-centered conception of Jehovah as the special guardian of a small and obscure semi-nomadic tribe, is tolerable beside that which confines sentient existence to our microscopical globe. The primary reasons were without doubt: (1) Astronomical ignorance on the part of the early Christians, coupled with an exaggerated appreciation of man's own importance -- a crude form of selfishness; and (2) the dread that, if the hypothesis of millions of other inhabited globes was accepted, the crushing rejoinder would ensue -- "Was there then a Revelation to each world?" involving the idea of the Son of God eternally "going the rounds" as it were. Happily it is now unnecessary to waste time and energy in proving the possibility of the existence of such worlds. All intelligent persons admit it. -- Volume II, pages 699-708.
(From Sunrise magazine, July 1971; copyright © 1971 Theosophical University Press)