The ‘Before the Veil’ section is a little unwieldly; it is kind of a thing unto itself but is quite interesting nonetheless and, although kind of jumpy, the purpose is clear – to introduce some basic notions of ancient philosophy, in this case by making an argument for the revival of Platonism and also showing its close connection and origin in Indian philosophy.
Platonism is presented more in a Neoplatonic style that views the history of Greek philosophy as kind of perennial philosophy. Nowadays, Greek philosophy is strictly divided into Pre-Socratic, Classical, Middle-Platonic and Neoplatonic but perhaps those classifications are, although useful, too rigid and the Neoplatonists never made such distinctions and quoted freely from philosophers of all periods. Therefore this holistic, comparative presentation of Greek philosophy, although kind of quirky, is refreshing and much more spiritual than most studies.
Moreover, a tentative effort to demonstrate the connection with Indian philosophy is presented, comparing Plato’s Allegory of the Cave with the doctrine of Maya and the Pythagorean Tetraktys with the creation story in Manu Smriti. This notion could be considered a pioneering effort in Indo-European studies and lately Thomas McEvilley in The Shape of Ancient Thought has published a ground-breaking study that takes up this idea once again:
In the glossary at the end of this section, we have an initial attempt at defining the terminology that would later become so important; it’s kind of sketchy, but full of interest – of particular note are the Sanskrit terms which seem to show an intriguing knowledge of the more esoteric aspects of Hindu ritual that she would rarely expounded on afterwards, which such terms as Akasha, Fakir, Mantra, Pitris, Soma and Yajna. The Vedas are generously quoted in these and in many other parts and so as a sample, the entry for ‘Evolution’ is an interesting example of a comparative study of creation myths.
She continues to define her project of dealing with the conflict between Science and Religion:
Between these two conflicting Titans — Science and Theology — is a bewildered public, fast losing all belief in man’s personal immortality, in a deity of any kind, and rapidly descending to the level of a mere animal existence. Such is the picture of the hour, illumined by the bright noonday sun of this Christian and scientific era! x
She does not deny the importance of a certain sceptical and critical outlook:
Would it be strict justice to condemn to critical lapidation the most humble and modest of authors for entirely rejecting the authority of both these combatants? Are we not bound rather to take as the true aphorism of this century, the declaration of Horace Greeley: “I accept unreservedly the views of no man, living or dead”?** Such, at all events, will be our motto, and we mean that principle to be our constant guide throughout this work. xi
It is not just a matter of blindly accepting all aspects of ancient wisdom, but sifting it and blending it with what is valid in modern knowledge, a kind of middle way between ancient and modern and re-uniting science and religion:
The whole question of phenomena rests on the correct comprehension of old philosophies. Whither, then, should we turn, in our perplexity, but to the ancient sages, since, on the pretext of superstition, we are refused an explanation by the modern? Let us ask them what they know of genuine science and religion; not in the matter of mere details, but in all the broad conception of these twin truths — so strong in their unity, so weak when divided.
Besides, we may find our profit in comparing this boasted modern science with ancient ignorance; this improved modern theology with the “Secret doctrines” of the ancient universal religion. Perhaps we may thus discover a neutral ground whence we can reach and profit by both. xii
She ends this long section with an eloquent critique of materialism and a plea for spiritual freedom:
Deeply sensible of the Titanic struggle that is now in progress between materialism and the spiritual aspirations of mankind, our constant endeavor has been to gather into our several chapters, like weapons into armories, every fact and argument that can be used to aid the latter in defeating the former. Sickly and deformed child as it now is, the materialism of To-Day is born of the brutal Yesterday. Unless its growth is arrested, it may become our master.
It is the bastard progeny of the French Revolution and its reaction against ages of religious bigotry and repression. To prevent the crushing of these spiritual aspirations, the blighting of these hopes, and the deadening of that intuition which teaches us of a God and a hereafter, we must show our false theologies in their naked deformity, and distinguish between divine religion and human dogmas. Our voice is raised for spiritual freedom, and our plea made for enfranchisement from all tyranny, whether of SCIENCE or THEOLOGY. xlv