Chapter 3 (Blind Leaders of the Blind) – History of the reception of scientific discoveries and investigation of spiritual phenomena
Throughout the chapter there is considerable interesting discussion on the complicated socio-political aspects involved in public acceptance and historical evaluation of scientific theories and the history of ideas regarding spiritual phenomena. There are basically three main parts to this chapter: a discussion on the inconsistencies of science, then a discussion on comparative ancient cosmology and symbolism, and a discussion of Giordano Bruno.
It may not be obvious how these are related, but I believe the gist of this structure aims at showing how modern science, although having helped progress considerably, is full of inconsistencies and therefore is a lot less reliable than it claims to be; in contrast to this the knowledge and scientific achievements of ancient traditional cultures are appreciated; and the case of Giordano Bruno is given to illustrate how modern science has difficulty understanding ancient spiritual wisdom and tends to repress it, and even when it wishes to rehabilitate certain notably spiritual figures, they tend to mis-represent them. The questions she raises on Bruno are still being debated today: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno
One can wonder why she gives so much space to a critique of Auguste Comte –https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auguste_Comte
Comte, although not that well-known today, was a huge influence on materialist ideologies such as those of Karl Marx – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Marx and Emile Durkheim – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89mile_Durkheim; therefore on can credit Blavatsky with a certain prescience in critiquing an important source of major intellectual models for twentieth century materialist philosophy, including the pervasive sociological model of religion.
1- Hindu Magical Feats – (p.73) The magical feats recorded in India cannot be faked or duplicated by western practitioners.
We assert again, in full confidence, that there does not exist a professional wizard, either of the North, South or West, who can compete with anything approaching success, with these untutored, naked sons of the East. These require no Egyptian Hall for their performances, nor any preparations or rehearsals; but are ever ready, at a moment’s notice, to evoke to their help the hidden powers of nature, which, for European prestidigitateurs as well as for scientists, are a closed book.74
2- Science is hurt by avoiding the study of spiritualistic phenomena (75).
The development of psychological science has been retarded far more by the ridicule of this class of pretenders, than by the inherent difficulties of its study. The empty laugh of the scientific nursling or of the fools of fashion, has done more to keep man ignorant of his imperial psychical powers, than the obscurities, the obstacles and the dangers that cluster about the subject (75).
3- A critique of Positivism (75).
We beg the reader to keep in view, that we do not attack Comte as a philosopher, but as a professed reformer. In the irremediable darkness of his political, philosophical and religious views, we often meet with isolated observations and remarks in which profound logic and judiciousness of thought rival the brilliancy of their interpretation. But then, these dazzle you like flashes of lightning on a gloomy night, to leave you, the next moment, more in the dark than ever. If condensed and repunctuated, his several works might produce, on the whole, a volume of very original aphorisms, giving a very clear and really clever definition of most of our social evils; but it would be vain to seek, either through the tedious circumlocution of the six volumes of his Cours de Philosophie Positive, or in that parody on priesthood, in the form of a dialogue — The Catechism of the Religion of Positivism — any idea suggestive of even provisional remedies for such evils.77
In short, Positivism proposes to itself to destroy Theology, Metaphysics, Spiritualism, Atheism, Materialism, Pantheism, and Science, and it must finally end in destroying itself. De Mirville thinks that according to Positivism, “order will begin to reign in the human mind only on the day when psychology will become a sort of cerebral physics, and history a kind of social physics.” The modern Mohammed first disburdens man and woman of God and their own soul, and then unwittingly disembowels his own doctrine with the too sharp sword of metaphysics, which all the time he thought he was avoiding, thus letting out every vestige of philosophy. (80)
4- Scientific Innovations are often met with vigorous resistance; the history of the trustworthiness of human testimony as legal evidence; the value of science as understanding of facts and truth (83).
Knowledge does increase apace, but the great body of scientists are not entitled to the credit. In every instance they have done their best to shipwreck the new discovery, together with the discoverer. The palm is to him who has won it by individual courage, intuitiveness, and persistency. Few are the forces in nature which, when first announced, were not laughed at, and then set aside as absurd and unscientific. Humbling the pride of those who had not discovered anything, the just claims of those who have been denied a hearing until negation was no longer prudent, and then — alas for poor, selfish humanity! these very discoverers too often became the opponents and oppressors, in their turn, of still more recent explorers in the domain of natural law! So, step by step, mankind move around their circumscribed circle of knowledge, science constantly correcting its mistakes, and readjusting on the following day the erroneous theories of the preceding one. This has been the case, not merely with questions pertaining to psychology, such as mesmerism, in its dual sense of a physical and spiritual phenomenon, but even with such discoveries as directly related to exact sciences, and have been easy to demonstrate. 84
5- Many modern discoveries (in medicine notably) are based on a re-discovery of ancient accounts (88)
In an old book entitled Demonologia, the author cites many instances of important remedies which being neglected at first afterward rose into notice through mere accident. He also shows that most of the new discoveries in medicine have turned out to be no more than “the revival and readoption of very ancient practices.” During the last century, the root of the male fern was sold and widely advertised as a secret nostrum by a Madame Nouffleur, a female quack, for the effective cure of the tapeworm (88).
6- India is an important source of ancient wisdom and magical knowledge; creation myths of India, Egypt and Judea compared; the symbolism of the Lotus (90)
It is admitted on all hands that from time immemorial the distant East was the land of knowledge. Not even in Egypt were botany and mineralogy so extensively studied as by the savants of archaic Middle Asia. Sprengel, unjust and prejudiced as he shows himself in everything else, confesses this much in his Histoire de la Medicine. And yet,considered divine. The Egyptian hierophants, notwithstanding the practice of a stern and pure morality, could not be compared for one moment with the ascetical Gymnosophists, either in holiness of life or miraculous powers developed in them by the supernatural adjuration of everything earthly. By those who knew them well they were held in still greater reverence than the magians of Chaldea. Denying themselves the simplest comforts of life, they dwelt in woods, and led the life of the most secluded hermits,* while their Egyptian brothers at least congregated together. Notwithstanding the slur thrown by history on all who practiced magic and divination, it has proclaimed them as possessing the greatest secrets in medical knowledge and unsurpassed skill in its practice. 90
In all the primitive religions, the “Son of the Father” is the creative God — i.e., His thought made visible; and before the Christian era, from the Trimurti of the Hindus down to the three kabalistic heads of the Jewish-explained scriptures, the triune godhead of each nation was fully defined and substantiated in its allegories. In the Christian creed we see but the artificial engrafting of a new branch upon the old trunk; and the adoption by the Greek and Roman churches of the lily-symbol held by the archangel at the moment of the Annunciation, shows a thought of precisely the same metaphysical significance. (91)
7- Giordano Bruno’s ancient perennial philosophy given modern empirical interpretations (93).
But for the opportune appearance of Berti’s authoritative work, we would have continued to revere Bruno as a martyr, whose bust was deservedly set high in the Pantheon of Exact Science, crowned with laurel by the hand of Draper. But now we see that their hero of an hour is neither atheist, materialist, nor positivist, but simply a Pythagorean who taught the philosophy of Upper Asia, and claimed to possess the powers of the magicians, so despised by Draper’s own school! Nothing more amusing than this contretemps has happened since the supposed statue of St. Peter was discovered by irreverent archaeologists to be nothing else than the Jupiter of the Capitol, and Buddha’s identity with the Catholic St. Josaphat was satisfactorily proven. (98)
Further works discussed include:
Demonologia: Or, Natural Knowledge Revealed: Being an Exposé of Ancient and Modern Superstitions, Credulity, Fanaticism, Enthusiasm, & Imposture, as Connected with the Doctrine, Caballa, and Jargon, of Amulets, Apparitions, Astrology, Charms, Demonology … Witchcraft, &c
S. Forsyth 1827
Émile Littré (1801-1881)
Paroles de philosophie positive (1859)
Roger Gougenot des Mousseaux (1805–76)
Les hauts phénomènes de la magie, précédés du spiritisme antique (1864)
Domenico Berti (1820-1897)
I Vila di Giordano Bruno da Nola (1868)
Joseph Rhodes Buchanan (1814-1899)
Outlines of Lectures on the Neurological System of Anthropology, as Discovered, Demonstrated and Taught in 1841 and 1842 (1854)
John Tyndall (1820-1893)
Martineau and Materialism (1875)