Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 16: The Sensitives > Chapter 13: The Occult
A choice of directions
The first reason for the warning not to pursue occult powers is that pursuing them is a sure way to prevent the soul's self-revelation. For the soul cannot be found unless its Grace has been granted. And it will not grant its Grace unless sought in all purity for its own sake. Hence the aspirant has to choose between it and occultism.
The way of the occult is one of blurred vision and mistaken choice. For those involved walk a way beset with inevitable dangers; and it is in every manner more difficult. It is not even more rapid to compensate for its danger, since it is less direct. It is a way strewn with camouflaged pitfalls. You can be safe--or sorry; choose which path you will follow: safe in the serene quest of the God within--or sorry after long years of dubious and dangerous occultism. The first is divine, the second dark. The first can result only in greater eventual happiness; the second often produces moral deterioration and mental derangement. The seeker after self-wisdom is not concerned with exploring the dormitories of the dead with the spiritist; neither does he seek, with the magician, to evoke those strange and terrible creatures which infest their entrances. The student who confuses Divine Truth with occultism or magic, with spiritualism or psychism, makes a great error.
If anyone comes to this Quest in order to obtain more power for his ego, even if it be occult, magical, or psychical power, he is wasting his time and had better leave it alone. There are ways to such powers but they lead off from the Quest, not to it. For they may all-too-easily, as observation often shows, inflate a man's vanity and increase his desires, thus thickening the illusions which befog him. Moreover, some of them expose him to grave perils: he may end by becoming possessed or going mad, by falling into the quagmires of necromancy, sorcery, or black magic. Seeking to glorify his own ego or to bend others to his will, he will be cast ingloriously to the ground and crushed by the very forces he has evoked.
He needs to beware of wandering into pseudo-occultism, spiritism, magic, and kindred undesirable subjects, as then adverse destructive forces would degrade his effort in time. Nothing of this kind should be dabbled in; otherwise he might become a conscious or unconscious medium. Only the pure and unmixed godly life should be sought, not the satisfaction of occult curiosity.
The attainment of psychic or occult powers by anyone who has not also attained freedom from his own emotional imbalances and intellectual inadequacies, and especially from his own basic egotism, is likely to prove dangerous to himself and others and to do more harm than good.
Just as only good can come from the realization of the Overself, so only evil can come from following the false paths that pretend to, but never can, lead to this realization.
The spiritual seeker who is under the impression that he must enter upon a course of occult experiences is utterly mistaken. Instead of being beneficial, such practices can, and often do, lead to serious unbalance, insanity, and dangerous and frightening occurrences.
Those who seek occult powers, superhuman capacities, have entered the wrong door. They should look elsewhere, not to philosophy, whose secrets concern primarily the kingdom of heaven. For the paths to hell are strewn with the wrecks of would-be witch doctors, sorcerers' apprentices, and magicians' disciples. For all this leads in the end to ego-omnipotence, not to ego-surrender.
The misuse of any occult power will effectively seal him in the ego and prevent union with the Overself.
No authentic spiritual growth can be made by means of the practices of either spiritism or hypnotism. They are unhealthy and unnatural, even though they do serve some value for scientific investigators. Above all, they cannot lead man to transcend his ego, without which the Overself remains inaccessible.
When this love of the marvellous becomes excessive, it prevents the man from finding truth, for his perceptions and sensations, his thinking and feeling, his judgements and observations are no longer reliable. Everything is thrown out of balance by his eager anticipation of miracles.
All attempts of the ego to wrest powers from the Overself and use them for its own independent purposes may succeed only for a time; in the end those who try are stricken by dismal failure, while in the beginning and the middle they are punished by being forbidden entry into the territory of the Overself.
The pure waters of spiritual life are not to be drawn from the dubious well of ghosts and goblins.
Those who seek in psychic realms find only reality's ghost. The peril here is that a reality may be turned into a delusion, and what is authentic may be turned into a sham.
The temptation may come from time to time, but a prudent seeker will refuse to let himself be corrupted by traffic with necromancy or by dabbling in magic or by pursuit of occult powers.
Only an illusory or transient progress can be made by these psychic and occult methods.
The foolishness of following wrong leads or trying wrong paths has to be paid for.
These gropings in the shadows of the twilit worlds that surround us are of little use. Such experiences can stretch out ad infinitum. It is in their very endlessness that the temptation lies which has lured so many seekers from the duty that lies to their hand.
Whoever lets himself become bemused by the occult into gullible acceptance of every wild fancy bearing its label, departs from the true quest and gets lost for his pains. He misplaces faith, an error whose penalty is painful disillusionment, and becomes an eccentric crank.
The seeker should pay no attention to the siren calls of so-called spirits of the departed, the promptings of megalomaniacal assumptions of messiahship, or the witchery of occult powers.
The time will come when he will throw tears on those years when he let the occultists hook him and thus turned the "simple way" into a steep impassable ascent.
Those who really seek thrills rather than truth may get them. All kinds of experiences await them. A lifetime could be spent having them. Truth is missed on the way.
Curiosity and inquisitiveness, but more especially the thirst to possess magical powers, lead him onto this way. Progress here fattens the ego, whereas progress on the true path thins it.
The genuine truth-seeker tries to keep out self-delusion in all its forms. He knows that the road is beset with it, that he must be watchful, and that the warning counsel of those who are farther on the way must be heeded.
My lamented friend, the Irish poet A.E., wrote with his celestial pen, "We are in our distant hope,/ One with all the great and wise,/ Comrade, do not turn and grope/ For a lesser light that dies."
If he is not careful, critical, balanced, sensible, and self-disciplined, the eager seeker may find after many years that he has simply been moving around the labyrinth of occultism to his own confusion in the end.
Those who meander in profitless occultism but call it divine science delude themselves. They tread a treadmill but imagine it is a path.
How many aspirants have travelled in circles, arriving, like Omar Khayyam, in the end at the same door by which they entered in!
The seductive shadow-world
Because it deals with matters not readily discernible, occultism's door is wide open to the bogus.
This seductive shadow-world of psychism lures many persons into its jungle-like depths, but it lures them only into the shadows of Reality, not into the Reality itself. Those who posture before the public as Hierophants of the Occult are unable to initiate their followers into that serene state wherein turbulent discontents and worldly desires wither away. They can, however, provide air-pies for those ready to swallow the solemn mysteries of occult lore; they can fool around in a fog of words and draw their followers likewise into it.
The occultist who sits like a mandarin before his devout but bewildered disciples and spins out whole systems of planes and spheres showing that he knows everything and more, has his pupils entirely at his mercy. They cannot answer back to him, for he is in the privileged and exclusive position of being able to "see" these planes and thus they must accept his reports.
The average occultist and psychic knows much less of his subject than he would have us believe. He may have lifted a corner of the veil but it is only a corner.
Just as acetate of lead is pleasant to the taste but deadly to life, so are the claims of these false occultists.
The idealized occultist of the author's imagination is not the mercenary occultist we find in reality.
The occultist takes pleasure in complicating simple truths or in concealing important ones.
Those who know the mind's capacity to indulge in fantasies and how quickly it submits to wishful thoughts, know also why these revived superstitions raised to the rank of revelatory theories have held so much fascination for so many students of the occult.
The gropings of medieval alchemists can hardly help him, and are better left alone. Whatever of truth he finds in them must already be known to him, and more clearly.
If educated people have been suspicious of occult societies in the past, they have had reason to be.
Grandiloquent revelations are preached by freaks to circles of oddities. They amount to nothing in the end, being the vaporous products of eccentric imagination collected around some psychic experience.
Here are problems which call for tremendous specialized erudition and for a high standard of scholarly exactitude and prolonged investigation before they can be adequately treated. Yet these impertinently amateurish occultists with little history and no archaeology or anthropology, without a scientifically trained judgement, and with credulous biased mentalities, sail swiftly and easily through the task!
The seemingly solid earth of kabbalistic magic and demoniac supernaturalism gradually becomes a marsh into which the unfortunate benighted wanderer sinks deeper and deeper.
Pious fancy sometimes pushes beyond actual fact.
How much farther can foolishness go towards insanity when the claim of revelation is naïvely used to make the most absurd beliefs appear as reasonable?
Occultists and psychics
Beware of pseudo-spiritual people. They are pests. Avoid meeting them; avoid talking to them. It would be far better for them to become out-and-out materialists than to go on deceiving either themselves or others with their wordy but fake spirituality. Under this heading I include also the spiritualists, the occultists, the psychics, and the "mental science" demonstrators. These people move through a fog of fake uplift. It is useless to try to give these people that which they are neither seeking nor asking for. They are not interested in finding REALITY but only its reflections and shadows. Hence, they have to be shown cosmologies, planes, occult powers, and miracles of magic. To teach Truth to such people when one is not asked for it is to commit an error with results that will act as a scourge to oneself. They themselves are always ready to teach anybody at any moment. We must be far wiser. We shall teach only when asked, only when we understand that it will do some real good, and even then only so much will be revealed as the querent is fit to take in. These pseudo-spiritual people are like living corpses, bodies which have taken on the appearance of life but are really dead.
The occultist who seeks to expand his life by enlarging his personal powers is often less near the Source than the artist who surrenders himself wholly to grace-given moments of felt beauty. The one is fastened more securely to the ego, the other released from it.
Edgar Cayce was not a mystic, he was a psychic. Although he brought much knowledge of a curious or interesting kind from his psychic experiences, it would be an error to regard them all as reliable, for most psychics can be misled.
It is a fact, although not a commonly known one, that the Führer Hitler for years secretly cultivated the habit of going quite frequently into a passive semi-trance condition. Occasionally he used an enormously large crystal to induce such a condition. In this state he believed himself to be in communion with occult forces, with spirit "controls," from whom he got both guidance and inspiration. To take counsel of the forces that possessed him and to promote his inner communion through such trances with them, he built the glass-walled private retreat six thousand feet high on the snowy precipitous summit of Mount Kehlstein where, unlike his famous mountain resting-place at Berchtesgaden, visitors were hardly ever permitted to enter. Thus he could remain in the virtual solitude which this communion required. To find the time for these solitary meditations, he left the largest possible amount of State work and Party direction to his collaborators. Even as late as the last years of the war, when the pressures of military necessity upon his time became more tremendous than ever before, Hitler insisted upon being alone for at least an hour each day. And it was known to a number of his close associates that this solitude was used to satisfy his occult interests and to carry on his magical practices.
However essentially honest and serious the researcher may be, he will have to suffer for the near-criminal misdeeds, the aberrations or credulous silliness of those irresponsible fanatics or unscrupulous exploiters who have alienated educated opinion.
It is dangerous to have any dealings or enter into any communications with such obsessed persons. For their conduct is entirely unguided by conscience or reason or consistency, their words entirely unguided by truth or self-control. Instead, evil passions and insane emotions are at the helm; hysteria, hatred, anger, fear, jealousy, greed, vanity, lying, and so on may take it in turn.
The possession of any supernormal power endangers an aspirant with vanity or conceit, even though he protests that his desire is to be just an instrument in God's hands. This danger particularly refers to healers.
Occultists writing on Tibetan masters have written too many erroneous or unverifiable statements to have their work accepted uncritically.
All forms of fortune-telling ask to be used with caution; all messages from psychics must be treated in the same way.
Max Freedom Long's book is not reliable. He took what is known of kahuna culture and twisted it into the shape of pre-existing occult ideas, and added much which is not in the original.
The attempt to use the Spirit's power to satisfy personal desires may fail simply because it fails to make contact with the Spirit. But it may also fail because even when contact is established, those desires may be negated or transformed as a result.
Joel Goldsmith gave great truths to mankind but also made some errors. He lived in an unreal fantasy world. Gigantic miracles became obtainable in this world at a low price. It is the old witch-doctor magic presented in a twentieth-century guise. It is the kind of world in which only dreamers can live, and from which only dreams can issue.
An American, Baird T. Spalding, wrote three volumes on his visits to Tibet and about the lives and teachings of the "Masters of the Far East" before he had ever left the American continent. (He added two further volumes after he had gone to India and returned.) He attached himself, with a party of fourteen disciples, to me for a couple of weeks when he discovered that I was in India at the time. I pointed out to him that his descriptions of the Masters did not tally with the facts as some of us knew them. He finally admitted that the books dealt with visits made in his astral body, not in his physical body as readers were led to believe. A similar situation arose more recently over the book The Third Eye, written by "Lobsang Rampa," an alleged Tibetan who turned out to be an Irish plumber writing under the dictation of an alleged Tibetan "astral body"!
There are dangers in the theatrical exhibitionism to which neurotical excess and unbalanced posturing may lead. Self-deception, fanaticism, irresponsibility, and misleading of the young are some of them.
He must beware of those who mistake the sub-normal for the super-normal, sub-conscious throw-ups for divine messages, and emotional titillation for spiritual rebirth.
A spiritism which reveres the messages of ghosts as though they were the messages of gods has strayed far.
"I am beginning to wonder whether such immortals ever existed. Is it not possible that the stories in the ancient books about Taoists who never died are exaggerated by the writers?"--Su Tung-po (who searched all his own life for the alchemical philosopher's stone to prolong life)
That spiritistic messages are mischievous or lying is a common experience.
Aleister Crowley died cursing and snarling.
The danger is that morally unevolved persons may misuse this knowledge selfishly to get what they want from others against their welfare. This is black magic. It is needful to put in strict warnings to such persons.
They calculate this world-event to take place in a particular year. When the year arrives and nothing happens, they adjourn the date to a later one. When that year passes with the prophecy again unfulfilled, they fix upon a further time. On each failure a plausible excuse is offered.
To try to use any of the powers gained through concentration to harm others or to subjugate them to one's own will is to practise black magic. It may succeed in its object but it will not succeed in evading eventual relentless punishment.
It is in bringing home the pitfalls of psychism, the dangers of mysticism, the perils of untrained intuition that a study of his inner life will be fruitful. Hitler, a distorted mystic, a perversely inspired man, claimed that his intuition informed him that he was carrying out God's will. It is in the critical examination and testing of such a claim that the value of metaphysical training proves itself. The fact is that neither Hitler nor anyone else can correctly make such a claim before two efforts have been successfully made: first, to ascertain what God is, and second, to ascertain how His will expresses itself. Gandhi too claimed that the inner voice of God gave him guidance in affairs of State. But he was always honest enough and great enough to admit later, as Hitler in his arrogance never did, that he had several times made what he himself called "Himalayan blunders." Let us admit that Hitler was the most astonishing man in Europe and that Gandhi was the most powerful force in political India. But this said, let us not deceive ourselves about nonpolitical matters in the essential need of discriminating between pseudo-intuition and genuine intuition.
Occultism is but a blind alley whose entrance is wide and inviting, whose promise is radiant and entrancing, but whose ending narrows into deception and danger.
It is generally quite undesirable to indulge in any occult activity, such as automatic writing, in order to produce psychic phenomena; indeed, it is often dangerous to do so. The mediumistic conditions thus aroused expose one to influences--even possession--by unknown and possibly evil spirits. The true mystical experience has nothing whatsoever to do with such proceedings and seeks to be influenced and possessed by the divine Overself alone.
What the evil-doer forgets is that no crystal exists anywhere which could show him a future free from retribution for his crimes. What he does not know is that black magic always contains within itself the terrible recoil of its own monstrous power. What he does not realize is that no astrologer ever lived who could write a horoscope which would let him escape the doom of retributive ruin that he earned.
Tantrika Yoga: Its methods are physical, ceremonial, sensual, and dangerous; its aims are the arousal of sleeping occult strength. In its highest phase, where the motive is pure and egoless, it is an attempt to take the kingdom of heaven by violence. But few men have such an exalted motive, as few are pure enough to dabble in such dangerous practices. Consequently, it need hardly be said that in most cases this road easily leads straight down to the abyss of black magic. This indeed is what has happened in its own history in Bengal and Tibet.
In the Malay Peninsula, North Africa, Indonesia, and India, as well as elsewhere, there are individual persons and whole groups who exhibit, for religious or financial reasons, unpleasant or even bestial practices which seem magical. Through drum-beatings, frenzied dances, whirlings on their own axis, convulsive floor-rollings, and half-trances, they enter a condition of bodily immunity. This includes holding red-hot coals, cutting their arms and slashing their chests with knives. It is evil.
David Devant, Secrets of Magic: An amusing account is given of Sir Oliver Lodge's superstitious awe in face of the performance known as "Translucidation." Members of the audience were asked to write on small cards, which were placed in envelopes, sealed, marked, and placed in a bag held by Miss Devant, who was seated on the platform: "My sister would simply take an envelope out and put it on her forehead and then read the contents. This was duly carried out with the six envelopes. Each one, after it had been read, was handed over the footlights immediately, and passed on to the person who claimed it. It seemed impossible and inexplicable; so much so that one day Sir Oliver Lodge came to the performance armed with a specially-sealed envelope, which he challenged my sister to read. She read it with the rest, and he was so surprised that he got up from his seat in the stalls and made a short speech to the audience. He said he could not understand by what means this marvel had been accomplished, as he knew nothing in science could account for it." The book itself explains how the trick was worked; it involved a trap-door, two accomplices, and a powerful electric lamp--a simple mechanism but not so simple as the mentality of this great man of science, the High Priest of Spiritualism.
It would be an error to attribute all these queer phenomena to mere trickery, sleight-of-hand, imposture, or chicanery. If there is a natural explanation of most of them, there can only be a supernatural explanation of the remainder of them.
The court magicians were employed by King Montezuma of Mexico to lift supernatural barriers against the Spanish army Cortes advanced from the coast to his inland capital city, but they failed to stop him. Is this not stuff of identically the same piece of superstition as that encountered in Tibet four hundred years later by the army of Sir Francis Younghusband, and described in A Hermit in the Himalayas?
Those who know it from inside know the reality of the dangers to which a man exposes himself when he ignorantly sets up necromancy as a revealed religion and when he sets ajar promiscuously the psychic door which Nature's wisdom has kept closed.
Nowhere in history have sorcery and magic demonstrated that they are utterly and always reliable means of dealing with distressful personal conditions. We feel the need of tested procedures which have yielded more satisfactory results, which means that we feel the need of rational understanding and rational techniques of dealing with those problems.
The drum-tattoos to drive away evil spirits I heard in primitive Africa, and the charcoal-blackened faces to achieve the same purpose which I saw in primitive Malaya, did not depend on either sounds or sights for their main effect. They depended on the concentrated thought behind them.
Northwest Shamanism (Shaman means medicine-man): During initiation or becoming possessed by, or for communication with, mystic power, the devotee not only fasts but also abstains from drinking water. The most common way of acquiring or deliberately seeking Shamanistic power is by individuals entering the state of dreaming, of waking vision, and of trance while physically conscious, wherein a spirit-being visits the candidate; communion and the connection thus established between them is the source and basis of the medicine-man's power. This spirit becomes his guardian spirit, from whom he receives the mantram, the understanding, and the capacity which enable him to cause or remove disease, to do and endure what other men cannot, and to practise psychic powers. At first he may become demented but after a time he becomes normal and has control of this supernatural "influence."
The American Indian "medicine-man" (priest) forbade a photograph being made of him because he believed it drained away his forces.
Beware of those gatherings where blind movements of head, limbs, and trunk sway the crowd, where strange voices are heard and uncontrolled feelings are let loose. There is nothing holy there; on the contrary, evil forces should be suspected.
The concept of the male-female soul is another item which belongs to the higher spiritualism. There was a somewhat similar concept propagated by Laurence Oliphant. However, it is not acceptable because in the loftiest mystical experience the body is lost and forgotten. With it the thought of sex must inevitably go too. There is no room for it, in however refined, disguised, romanticized, or intellectualized form it may be, in the utter purity of the timeless, spaceless, supersensual form--Spirit.
The practices of witchcraft, black magic, or sorcery necessarily expose the practiser to serious dangers. The chief of these is madness.
If he is not able to detach himself sufficiently from them, he will be the victim of the various forces acting upon him. This is why sensitive persons are advised not to meddle with necromancy, magic, or the like.
The line which separates the use of meditation for worldly purposes, and especially to influence other people, from black magic is sometimes a thin one.
The drums which beat insistently and monotonously throughout the full-moon nights in many an Oriental community have the ultimate object of putting the thoughts to rest and lulling the senses.
Yet there are dangers to those who dabble in these psychic and spiritistic practices, these mystic and metaphysical workings arising out of their ignorance of the forces they are evoking and playing with.
Automatic writing and other such psychic phenomena are ordinarily to be avoided because they develop mediumistic tendencies. However, there are rare exceptions where an individual may safely practise such activities--providing he keeps in personal touch with someone highly advanced who considers the writings worthwhile. In mystical circles such a person is regarded as having found what is called "the interior word."
The so-called astral travels and mental-plane journeys of the occultists are very far from being what they are popularly taken for. They are nothing but a series of subjective visions, dreams woven by the mind under various influences.
Most of the experiences of occult "initiates," all their travels on "the seven inner planes," are nothing but a series of subjective visions. The occult worlds are mirages born from the imagination.
Those who hear voices and see visions had better be careful. They are touching dubious ground and sometimes dangerous ground. Before proceeding further on this path they should consult someone of mature experience in these matters, someone well-informed and balanced in judgement. The danger here is of getting lost in a condition for which they are unprepared and which they are unable to cope with. They may even embrace delusions under the belief that they are realities.
Anyone who hears voices that have no physical origin should immediately stop whatever practice--occult, psychic, meditational, necromantic, or religious--he or she has been following, should take a holiday from all such interests for a time and get back to the normal, the outgoing, and the ordinary. Otherwise there is the peril of madness or obsession.
Automatic writing is not an activity to be encouraged. Some form of psychic manifestation may appear until one has reached a certain level of discipline and understanding, but it is quite transient with sensible persons. It does no particular good and usually no particular harm either. It is better not to be sidetracked into these things, because we must see where we are going and keep a firm hold upon ourselves at all times. The only genuine automatism which is permissible, acceptable, and even to be sought after is that in which the personal self allows itself to be played upon as though it were a musical instrument by the Overself. This should be the goal of all our endeavours, this surrendering of the little self to the larger one. But when this happens it seems perfectly natural, there is nothing magical or mysterious about it, and there is the utter certitude of rightness and safety.
Although automatic writing has sometimes yielded accurate or admirable statements of the truth, more often it has merely reflected the beliefs and opinions, the limitations and ignorance of its practiser. But the dangers which accompany this phenomena are frightening: possession by an earthbound spirit is the worst.
Most of these presumed "messages" from dead or distant masters or from God are really formulated by the mind along the lines of its habitual tendencies and within the frame of its limitations. This clarification will, however, not be acceptable to those who can take truth only when it pleases and who always reject it when it hurts.
The experience of leaving the body very often accompanies or leads to poor health, and it originates from a psychical and not a spiritual cause. It is, therefore, not desirable ordinarily to encourage its continuance. The way of inward relaxation is much superior and more to be recommended.
The power of suggestion is not properly acknowledged, but only partially. If it can put one person into a trance, if it make another temporarily change his identity, surely this indicates that here is one of the greatest of psychological powers?
We habitually underestimate the power of suggestion, whether it be derived from within self or from outside it. A human personality, an environmental setting, a tone of voice, or an inherited tradition often make us think, believe, or do what otherwise might not have occurred to us.
Why is it that the person who enters the deeper stage of hypnotic sleep hears and obeys the hypnotist alone and nothing and nobody else in the world outside? Why is it that on awakening he even does not then remember what he said or did? The answer to both questions is the same. It is not his own but the hypnotist's mind which operates during his sleep. It is not the subject who is doing this or saying that during the sleep, but the hypnotist himself who is doing or saying it, unconsciously using the subject's vocal organs and bodily limbs for the purpose. Those who cannot concede this should try, if they can, to find an explanation of the following further problem: if a person during ordinary sleep cannot hear spoken words or obey spoken commands, why can he do so during a sleep induced hypnotically? The fact is he does not really do so but merely yields the illusion of it to outside observers. What happens is that the hypnotizer superimposes his own mind on the sleeper's and unconsciously utilizes his body. He who hears the hypnotizer speak is his own self. He who obeys his commands is likewise himself. But the process of using the medium's senses and obsessing his mind, being an unconscious one, hides these facts. The value of this instance for our present purpose is that it helps to throw light on the inner mechanism of certain mystical phenomena which accompany advanced meditation.
Just before I went on my first journey to the Orient, my friend Professor Chellew, who was a professor of psychology at the University of London, warned me that there were gurus who used hypnotism. He instructed me how to defend myself against such a man. "If a guru," he said, "is looking straight into your eyes, then do not return the gaze fully but rather only into his left eye. This is because the positive currents which he is trying to direct towards you flow through his right eye. His left eye is passive. Or, instead of looking in the guru's eye, stare over the shoulders and thus avoid direct confrontation. Or, if a direct return gaze cannot be avoided, then use it for only a couple of seconds and turn away again: but the gaze should really be a mere pretense, for it should be directed at nothing in particular. It should be blank, expressionless, as if looking far into space. In this way you protect yourself and yet do not disturb the other person. If, however, the guru is one who can be fully trusted, who is a pure channel for the divine power, well then you may gaze at his right eye and so receive the inspiration he may be giving you."
Most writers on hypnotism have defended it by putting forward the notion that the victim will not accept a suggestion which is contrary to his moral code. This is simply not true. For hypnotic power reaches into the subconscious mind; here decisions are really made and actions impelled.
Where hypnotism is used to overcome another person's will, it is used wrongly and immorally. Where it is used to overcome the weaknesses in oneself by planting opposing suggestions, it is used rightly.
Why does the hypnotist so often ask his subject to look into his eyes when making the suggestions or giving the commands? Is it not because the mental interaction between them finds its easiest to-and-fro passage through the most sensitive points on the outer surface of the body--the eyes?
The limitations of egoic life can be pushed aside for a brief period by hypnosis in some cases, or by drugs in other cases.
Hypnotism may be employed with evil intentions for evil ends. In that case it comes very close to black magic, witchcraft, and sorcery and must be prohibited. But it may be employed also with good intentions for beneficent ends. In that case, and if the hypnotizer is of honourable character, and provided the welfare, rights, or interests of the hypnotized subject are fully respected, it is allowable, especially in the domain of the healing and surgical arts. If hypnotism is used by a person of dishonourable character or even by a person of average character flawed by some particular weakness, there is always the possibility that it may be used immorally. A crime may then be committed against the person submitting to it, or else he himself may be influenced to commit a crime against somebody to suit the hypnotizer's purpose, covering up the real criminal. These dangers are real and are dreadful enough to require that society be protected by limiting hypnotic practice to special trustworthy persons, and hypnotic objectives to allaying bodily pain and to inducing artificial unconsciousness, or sleep. Otherwise hypnotic passivity is undesirable for the same reason that mediumistic passivity is undesirable: both surrender the use of the subject's free will. In the one case it becomes enslaved to a living operator, in the other to a supposedly disincarnate one. Whoever gives it up to the control of another entity renders himself helpless and powerless against, and utterly at the mercy of, that entity. This is a dereliction of personal responsibility, sinful despite any benefits which may be sought and obtained.
H.P. Blavatsky: "Hypnotism and suggestion are dangerous powers. The victim's will is stolen from him. These things may be begun with good motives, and for right purposes. But I am an old woman, and have seen much of human life in many countries. I wish I could believe that these powers would be used only for good. Whoever lets himself be hypnotized by anyone, good or bad, is opening the door which he will be powerless to shut; and he cannot tell who will be the next to enter."
What is spiritualistic mediumship? The answer may be found by relating it with hypnotic mediumship. The principle at work in both cases is identical. Give a hypnotic medium in trance or semi-trance a suitable suggestion and it will be taken up and fully obeyed. If you tell him he is Napoleon he will believe, act, and speak as though he were. Tell a spiritualistic medium that you wish to communicate with the spirits of the departed and you have already given her a suggestion which she will take up and obey. She will provide all kinds of details about the spirit she supposes she evokes, details which are worked out either consciously or unconsciously by her imagination. We must remember that the residue of accurate facts which such mediums communicate may arise from the fact that reverie or full trance are states of mental concentration and, as such, telepathy may come into play and the sitter's mind be tapped.
The claim by both hypnotism and spiritualism that one human mind is capable, under certain conditions, of entering another human mind is true enough. It is also capable of dominating the other one. These two possibilities exist mostly in those situations where a person has willingly thrown himself open to another person's influence, has sat in the hypnotist's chair or at the spiritist's table. They also exist outside of these situations, particularly if someone sits for meditation by trying to make his mind a blank, without previously trying also over a sufficient period to purify his character, uplift his motives, and achieve some balance between his emotions and reason.
Quite a number of those who try the adventure into practical mysticism, as apart from its theoretical study, fall into the practice of mediumship instead. What is equally regrettable is that they remain captive to the delusion that they are still mystics.
He can have no higher aim than to be possessed by the divine Overself. This is the only kind of mediumship which can safely be practised and the only kind which ought to be practised.
Spiritual development is one thing; spiritual domination by other is its opposite. The first is mysticism, the second mediumship. The first leads to the taking possession of oneself, the second to losing one's most valuable attributes: will and reason, self-control and, in certain cases, even consciousness.
There are fourteen signs of the mediumistic condition. The medium suffers from: (1) loss of memory, (2) inability to keep mind on conversation, (3) frequent mental introversion, (4) decreasing power of prolonged concentration, study, thought, analysis, and intellectual work, (5) increasing emotionality, (6) weakened willpower, (7) greater sensitivity to trifles, with nervous irritability and silly vanity resulting therefrom, (8) more suspicions of others in his environment, (9) more self-centered and egotistic, (10) frequent glassy stare of the eyes, (11) increased sexual passion, (12) appearance of hysteria or uncontrollable temper where previously absent, (13) disappearance of moral courage, (14) the feeling at times that some unseen entity takes possession of him.
When the individual is entirely introspective, when he no longer knows or wants to know his physical environment, he may become wrapped up in ideas or images which thereby assume vivid reality or he may fall into a state of utter blankness. If his preparation and training have been correct, he may be touched by the higher consciousness. But if he is spiritually unprepared and philosophically untrained, he may become the victim of an unseen disincarnate mind; in short, he may become a medium.
The student who wishes to keep away from unnecessary moral and psychical danger should keep away from dabbling in hypnotism or playing with mediumship.
What happens during mediumship is that the mind, will, and body of a living person are surrendered in part or as a whole to a disincarnate one. Such a process may be imitated by frauds or fanatics, but it is also genuinely possible.
The mediumistic condition is not one to be admired and valued, as so many spiritists believe. On the contrary, it is one to be avoided by every seeker after the higher life. It will bar his way to that life or it will drag him away from it. For it allows the will to be paralysed, the capacity for self-control to be lost, the mind to be surrendered to someone else's domination, and the eyes to be shut to where one is going. Such a condition is the very opposite of that sought by philosophical mysticism. It is as degrading as it is dangerous.
If you consider the silly, irrational, and crazy actions which hypnotized persons are easily led to do, you will understand why a hypnotized spiritist medium--for that is his condition--is easily led into obsessions.
Someone once told me an amusing story which well illustrates the necessity of never abandoning common sense and the critical faculty when one treads this mysterious ground. She was dining with a certain Russian Grand Duke who was a complete believer in spiritualistic and psychic theories. A medium regularly visited his mansion and gave him messages from a certain spirit. He pointed to a small black metal figure of Osiris and said that he treasured it exceedingly. The spirit had told him that this figure of Osiris should be kept with care as he, the Grand Duke, had been a Pharaoh in a previous incarnation and at that time he possessed this very figure of Osiris which was now with him again; it was a link for him with that incarnation. The visitor listened and later, idly picking up the figure, discovered that a small label on its underside said: "Price 2 fr. 50, Galleries Lafayette, Paris."
The continued practice of mediumship may lead to deplorable results, especially to nervous breakdown, insanity, immorality, or suicide. It cannot help anyone to attain a higher life but may help him to lose it. Consequently philosophy earnestly asks its students to refrain from being led down its tempting side-paths to their own destruction.
To permit himself to be possessed by an unseen entity whose true identity he does not know, is clearly foolish. To do so unwittingly is bad enough but to do so deliberately is unpardonably insane.
No student should make the mistake of accepting spiritism as a part of mysticism or of attending séances as a practice in meditation. Mediumship is both mentally and morally harmful. In the end it does not yield what it promises but deceives those who trust it. The student who dabbles in it will actually retrogress under the delusion that he is progressing. He may lose in a few months what it has taken him years to gain.
The difficulty with such a person is that after having fabricated these scandalous but unreal episodes, she soon and obsessively believes them to be actual happenings. That she is a little mad through the excessive practice of spiritualistic mediumship does not make her less dangerous to the gullible victims who listen open-mouthed to her and exclaim, "You don't say!"
What is believed to be a communicating unseen entity, the spirit of a deceased person, is, in so many cases, only a split-off of the medium's own subconscious mind.
The deceptive messages which so often lead a medium astray begin by flattering him or her with the notion that he or she is destined to become the leader of a great spiritual revival at least, or the long-awaited Messiah at most. But they end by destroying the medium's sanity, morals, happiness, or health.
Even if mediumship did not yield harmful results because of its evil origin, it would still be a thing to be avoided because it falls into the class of psychic powers, which, as Patanjali, the great master of Yoga in ancient India, says in his classic manual on the subject, "are injurious to that mental stillness which it is the ultimate object of meditation to attain."
It is morally wrong and psychologically risky to surrender the mind, the will, and the body to an unseen entity, whether this be done in unconscious trance or in partially aware mediumship. The inner history of spiritism is full of instances of the heavy price paid by those who embarked on such a foolish course.
The spiritualists use the term "trance condition" in a special sense. They think of it as a complete loss of consciousness, wherein a disembodied personal entity takes over and uses the entranced person's vocal organs to speak, or his hands to write. The medium's identity completely changes and becomes that of the purported spirit. Philosophy rejects such a condition from its desired goals and warns students against such dangerous states. What it seeks is not this negative passivity but a positive state wherein the meditator does not lose his consciousness but only deepens and widens it. It is true that the mediumistic condition resembles the meditative one in some respects, but not in the fundamental ones.
Any medium who lets himself be possessed at times by lying and malignant spirits in his séances would be fortunate to escape with his sanity and peace of mind. He should first learn how to protect himself before he opens himself up to outside and unseen powers. But such protection can be gained only by developing his own strength, character, knowledge, and aspiration. Indeed his personal spiritual growth calls for this passage to a higher stage. But this can be reached only by abandoning mediumship, at least for a time. At some future date, he might be able to resume it, but it would then be so vastly superior and so fully within his control that it would really be mysticism. For the controlling entity would be either his own higher self or a genuine living master.
The man who practises mediumship gains nothing spiritually by it, since even his noblest utterances do not become part of him but merely flow as water through a pipe. Even after fifty years of such practice he gains only a means of earning a livelihood.
There is a lower form of Spiritism, expressed through cheap paid mediums, as well as a higher form, expressed through non-professional persons who mix the mystical with the mediumistic. The student of philosophy must scrupulously avoid both these forms, must reject their so-called revelations and faithfully stay on the superior level which he is so fortunate to have attained.
Professor Ernest Wood told me the story of his father's visit to an exhibition which marked the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in England. A few weeks after the visit his father was given a message from a supposed spirit whose description exactly tallied with that of a waxworks figure of a man which he had seen at the exhibition. What happened in this case was that the medium had picked up correctly the picture of this figure, but had let his imagination incorrectly construct a message because of his own personal belief in, and bias towards, spiritualism. Thus what began in psychic vision as a truth became adulterated as a mixture of truth and error. The case cited here illustrates the possibility and actuality of mistakes not only on the lower levels of occultism, but also on the higher levels of religious mysticism. Here inspired revelations are sometimes mixed up with personal belief or even interpolated unwittingly with priestly imagination.
That mediumship and hypnotism are undesirable, that they can lead to mental disturbance, was an opinion held by both Helena Blavatsky and Mabel Collins. It must be noted that even though they were right in several cases, they were wrong in others.
The mind becomes more and more sensitive and receptive, rejecting nothing presented to it. This unselectivity becomes a danger if it is constant, for the mind would be flooded not only with unhelpful useless material, but also with negative, unhealthy, morally low and unhappy material. The defense and protection against this invasion is to be true to the Overself and thus to be open only to the Good, the True--a two-way awareness.
He can be sure that he has fallen into a mediumistic or a psychic phase if the phenomenon of receiving messages shows itself and if, after the first period of exciting discovery, the messages become more and more unreliable.
Just as it is possible for the dream-mind to assume different personalities, each speaking and behaving according to type, so it is possible for other hidden layers of the mind to dramatize themselves and speak as they might be expected to in their respective capacities. We are only on the fringe of discovering what latent powers the human mind possesses. The entity which controls can quite well be himself in another guise, not only because of the foregoing but also because of characteristics developed in former births and still lying beneath the surface of this birth. On the other hand, there is a less likely possibility of genuine spirit-control. This is true even if, during the delivery of trance addresses, the medium himself is quite unconscious of them and of everything that is happening at the time.
The medium yields up her mentality before she has developed it, hence prematurely and against the tide of evolution. Hence most mediums are usually illiterate or half-educated types.
This feeling of being directed by some other power, of being under compulsion to think and act in a certain way, is good if the reference is to the Higher Power, but dangerous if not. For obedience may then be mediumship not mysticism, or drug hallucination not inspiration.
The medium is either deceived by, or confused about, the very nature of the phenomena he encounters. The aspirant should not dally in them but should pass beyond as quickly and as far as he can.
The medium is in the end brought to a point where she has no will, no power to choose, no free life of her own. She obeys the enslaving entity's suggestions and orders in everything. If this entity feeds its passions and satisfies its instincts through her, she is lost indeed.
Where a spiritualistic medium has escaped harm despite the practice of mediumship during the earthly life, the escape is only an illusory one. As soon as she passes out of the body at death, an unseen entity will fasten upon her and gain further control over her in such a way as to cause serious harm and bring much suffering during the post-mortem existence. And when the next birth in this world is taken, moral retrogression and spiritual retardation will be the final price to pay for this dubious practice. If its victim succeeds in escaping from mediumship and takes to a higher life, even then the unseen creature becomes her evil tempter, her hidden tormenter. Such are the creatures whom Jesus called devils, but whom our modern mediums in their pitiful ignorance invite into their very being and life. How many cases of madness, of immorality, of crime, of drunkenness, suicide, and even murder may be traced to these malevolent demons, through their suggestion, influence, or obsession?
It may interest you to know that probably half the cases of patients in lunatic asylums are possessed by evil spirits. Many of them could be cured if the spirit could be exorcised and driven out.
Many of the spirits who influence mediums are evil, diabolic, or malevolent. Others are only mischievous, deceptive, and lying. Some are harmless and a few may even be good. But the risks from the first two types are so large and so dangerous that the practice of mediumship is banned to its students by philosophy.
By giving up his personal responsibility to the unseen entity, which in most cases is never what it pretends to be, the medium takes an easy road to moral disaster. By failing to exercise this responsibility he does not free himself from the painful effects of such a disaster.
When these evil spirits have led him up to the peak of trust in them, so that he is ready to do their slightest bidding, they have led him also to a hidden chasm of deception yawning at his feet. Unless he withdraws in time, he will fall into it and be destroyed.
The evil spirits which attend such séances can cleverly imitate higher beings, claim lofty famous names, and even create an aura of light in the darkened room under the pretense that it is the authentic holy Divine Light.
Rasputin and spiritualist mediums were at the last Czar's court. Spiritualist mediums attended Napoleon III's court. What misguidance did evil or lying spirits give?
Even a harmless control may open the way for a harmful one later. There is the added danger that a lying spirit may give uplifting messages and wise guidance until confidence is established. Then, when the censorship of reason and experience are overcome, the victim is lured to folly or sin or disaster.
The woman who cultivates mere passivity rather than purity, who seeks contact with "the other world" rather than truer knowledge of this one, lays herself open to mediumship. In this deplorable condition, lying spirits may enter her mind and misguide her, evil spirits may enter her body and degrade her.
The medium can do nothing beyond receiving weakly what is implanted in him, for he is no longer in a positive purposeful state of activity. He has lost his own individual selfhood, and especially his power of logical rational thinking. Thus he lies at the mercy of whatever entity or whatever subconscious image overshadows him. The danger is that malevolent forces may take hold of him and make him their captive.
Whoever takes on the travail of mediumship, surrendering his body at times to disincarnate spirits, takes the risk of being controlled not only at undesired times but also in undesired ways; and, worse, by undesirable beings; still worse, without the medium's own awareness. It then becomes treachery to his own individuality.
If the would-be mystic is to keep out of these pitfalls he should keep out of spiritualism. He should refuse to engage in any practices which lead directly to mediumistic subjection. If, however, he has already engaged in them, he should renounce them at once and try to bring his mind back to an alert, wakeful, and active condition. He should seek with the true mystic the highest degree of self-control rather than with the spiritistic medium the lowest degree of self-submission.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.