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  1. Profile photo of Pavel Axentiev

    Pavel Axentiev

    In addition to the above, there are several notable quotations and discussions in the chapter.

    Firstly, HPB italicizes the whole following sentence (p.44, paragraph 12): “No other claim is advanced for a hearing of the opinions contained in the present work than that they are based upon many years’ study of both ancient magic and its modern form, Spiritualism.”

    In the next paragraph, she gives some details of her background (“We have associated with the fakirs, the holy men of India . . . the howling and dancing dervishes . . . the marabouts of European and Asiatic Turkey . . . the serpent-charmers of Damascus and Benares . . .”). Thus, she is already giving hints to the source of her ideas and brings in a much broader angle to the discussion, not limited merely to the knowledge of ancient and modern philosophies and Spiritualistic phenomena.

    Furthermore, her criticism of the contemporary scientific investigations of the phenomena, sometimes quite witty ironic, in other places reaches a level of pitch that gives out familiarity with very intricate aspects of the “philosophy of science.” Notable in this respect is the paragraph on p. 49, starting with: “The recognized laws of physical science account for but a few . . .” The paragraphs devoted to the philosophy of Schopenhauer (p. 58), and those preceding (pp. 56-57), teem with amazing parallels and contain critical evaluation of the different terminologies. Having thus prepared the ground, HPB launches a particularly impressive attack on the scientists, which to me, at least, as someone not very familiar with the state of scientific thought in the 19th century, seems to be a century ahead of her time. Referring to Hartmann as the originator of the argument, she says:
    “Furthermore, he [Hartmann] demonstrates that no experimenter can have anything to do with matter properly termed, but only with the forces into which he divides it. The visible effects of matter are but the effects of force. He concludes thereby, that that which is now called matter is nothing but the aggregation of atomic forces, to express which the word matter is used; outside of that, for science matter is but a word void of sense.”
    One can see that from this, supported by some further quotations from Schopenhauer, HPB quite directly proceeds to expound the views with which quantum physicists of the end of the 20th/early 21st century would largely agree.

    Also interesting, and not mentioned above, are several paragraphs describing the accomplishments of Roger Bacon (c. 1219/20 – c. 1292), who is reported to have produced “musical raps,” “mystic odors” (produced, as believed, “by spirit-agency”), and even materialized forms, thus pushing back the known, documented records of “Spiritualistic” phenomena by at least six centuries.

    These accounts are interspersed with ideas and passages more reminiscent of later Theosophical teachings, such as, for example, on pp. 66-67:
    “Men possessed of such knowledge and exercising such powers patiently toiled for something better than the vain glory of a passing fame. Seeking it not, they became immortal, as do all who labor for the good of the race, forgetful of mean self. Illuminated with the light of eternal truth, these rich-poor alchemists fixed their attention upon the things that lie beyond the common ken, recognizing nothing inscrutable but the First Cause, and finding no question unsolvable. To dare, to know, to will, and REMAIN SILENT, was their constant rule; to be beneficent, unselfish, and unpretending, were, with them, spontaneous impulses. Disdaining the rewards of petty traffic, spurning wealth, luxury, pomp, and worldly power, they aspired to knowledge as the most satisfying of all acquisitions. They esteemed poverty, hunger, toil, and the evil report of men, as none too great a price to pay for its achievement. They, who might have lain on downy, velvet-covered beds, suffered themselves to die in hospitals and by the wayside, rather than debase their souls and allow the profane cupidity of those who tempted them to triumph over their sacred vows.”
    Beautiful, poetic, and all-but-too-prophetic prose, perhaps one of the finer examples of HPB’s literary genius.

    Finally, following the excellent critique of Spiritualistic ideas on pp. 68ff, HPB calls the attention to known cases of animal spectres, referencing Pausanias’ account of horses neighing at the site of the battle of Marathon four hundred years after the battle had taken place; as well as thrilling details of the Salem witch trials, which often included accounts of animal spirit forms. This must have been a strong blow to the prevailing views of the day, whether it be that animals did not have souls (hence what are these?), or that the Spiritualistic manifestations are necessarily those of disembodied human spirits (in this case, if those are not animal spirits but their impersonations by some other entities, then what could be said about the human spirits; in either case, Spiritualistic notions of the Otherworld constituents need be expanded).

    In the final paragraphs, HPB brings in keen references to Descartes and to the 19th century psychiatrist Brierre de Boismont, author of the work on hallucinations, concluding the chapter with a chord from her main theme, that one should look to ancient knowledge in order to understand the mysteries of the present day.

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