Theosophy and Ancient Atomism

“There appear from time to time great thinkers, who, devoting their lives to a single purpose, are able to anticipate the progress of mankind, and to produce a religion or a philosophy by which important effects are eventually brought about. But if we look into history we shall clearly see that, although the origin of a new opinion may be thus due to a single man, the result which the new opinion produces will depend on the condition of the people among whom it is propagated. If either a religion or a philosophy is too much in advance of a nation it can do no present service but must bide its time until the minds of men are ripe for its reception (…) Every science, every creed has had its martyrs. According to the ordinary course of affairs, a few generations pass away, and then there comes a period when these very truths are looked upon as commonplace facts, and a little later there comes another period in which they are declared to be necessary, and even the dullest intellect wonders how they could ever have been denied.” (Henry Thomas Buckle, History of Civilization)

Ancient and modern theosophists teach that man possesses hidden faculties capable of extending their investigative search into Nature, and to understand part of that, involves finding out what the occult view was regarding the nature of Elements, Gods, Atoms, and Souls, apart from the cultural and artistic (anthropomorphic) notions we are familiar with. Besides criticisms of Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater, they contributed in their period to a deliberate application of occult studies to the modern sciences. Skeptical of their Occult Chemistry (1908), they claimed to be able to go further than the ordinary clairvoyance into the realm of atomic particles, a possibility however, not too far-fetched given what the author has learned and tested. Yet, it is clear that modern science “believes not in the ‘soul of things,” as H.P. Blavatsky wrote. Science will be driven out of their materialist positions, “Not by spiritual, theosophical, or any other physical or even mental phenomena, but simply by the enormous gaps and chasms that open daily — and will still be opening before them.” “One discovery follows the other,” she noted, “until they are finally knocked off their feet by the ninth wave of simple common sense.”

Besant and Leadbeater’s Occult Chemistry?

“The possibility of visually experiencing an invisible world aligned the emerging physics of the 1890s and early twentieth century with the Theosophical Society, one of the major institutions of the late Victorian occult revival. Just as the Hermetic societies explored in chapter 1 argued that the emerging sciences of radioactivity and subatomic particles revealed the validity of alchemical theory—and that the alchemical worldview could productively shape modern science—the Theosophical Society, too, carefully followed the experimental and theoretical work of scientists such as Crookes, Ramsay, Röntgen, Thomson, Soddy, Rutherford, and the Curies. Theosophists believed that the new science validated both the theories of medieval alchemists and, of course, the wisdom of Theosophical adepts, including the founders of the Society, H. P. Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Olcott, and their Theosophical heirs, especially Annie Besant (1847–1933) and Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854–1934). Even more remarkably, Theosophical engagements with authorized science helped confirm the emerging “image orientation” of the new atomic science from the outset.” (Marc Morrison, Modern Alchemy: Occultism and the Emergence of Atomic TheoryChapter 2)

“…some scientists will prefer to (…) simply [ignore] the challenge to materialistic science posed by the observations of Besant & Leadbeater. Such an example was Professor F. W. Aston, inventor of the mass spectrograph. When told in 1943 by their colleague Jinarajadasa that they had published in 1908 their discovery by psychic means of the neon‐22 isotope six years before Frederick Soddy invented the name of “isotopes” and twelve years before he himself separated atoms of neon‐20 and neon‐22 with his mass spectrograph, Aston replied that he was not interested in Theosophy! One might have expected more curiosity to be displayed by the scientist, even though he no doubt did not accept Jinarajadasa’s claim that Besant & Leadbeater had priority in discovering the neon‐22 isotope.” (Stephen M. Phillips, ESP of Quarks and Superstrings, 1999, 240)

Ancient Notions versus “Reductionism”

The idea that godly Intelligences correlate with ancient Atomism and Hylozoist theory seems preposterous only given the fact, that our understanding of what the ancients meant by the gods is mostly built on what was commonly believed through culture, or through theological polemics. The theory of atoms, ether, and evolution comes to the modern sciences from ancient notions; and conceptions in the form of allegories to the profane, but other meanings to the initiated elect, that had been partially given out through the Greek writers and descended or survived with us. However, Blavatsky was careful to note as her critics thought, that this meant, that the learning of the initiates are the same exact views as found in the exotericism of the classical Greek writers. The day approaches, she tells us, when we begin to realize that the forces we know of, are the phenomenal manifestations of realities underlying them, which we know nothing about, but were worshiped by the ancients. This is the intriguing part, because then, we must ask, what did they teach were these phenomenal manifestations, the Gods, “the Elements” they called them. It is recognized, that these distorted concepts, were not originally based in superstition, and that there is truth in even the concepts of the animists and beliefs in “many gods,” brushed over by the constructed monotheism, which then said, gods do not even exist. But, then we must ask what are the gods in the esotercists’ view.

“…Atoms, Ether, evolution itself — all comes to modern Science from ancient notions, all is based on the conceptions of the archaic nations. “Conceptions” for the profane, under the shape of allegories; plain truths taught during the Initiations to the elect, which truths have been partially divulged through Greek writers and have descended to us. This does not mean that Occultism has ever had the same views on matter, atoms and ether as found in the exotericism of the classical Greek writers. (…) But, as Grove prophetically remarked, that day is fast approaching when it will be confessed that the “forces” we know of are but the phenomenal manifestations of realities we know nothing about, — but which were known to the ancients and — by them worshipped. (…)

We are assured that real science is not materialistic; and our own conviction tells us that it cannot be so, when its learning is real. There is a good reason for it, well defined by some physicists and chemists themselves. Natural sciences cannot go hand in hand with materialism. To be at the height of their calling, men of science have to reject the very possibility of materialistic doctrines having aught to do with the atomic theory; and we find that Lange, Butlerof, Du Bois Reymond, — the latter probably unconsciously — and several others, have proved it.

And it is, furthermore, demonstrated by the fact, that Kanada in India, and Leucippus, Democritus, and after them Epicurus — the earliest atomists in Europe — while propagating their doctrine of definite proportions, believed in Gods or supersensuous entities, at the same time. Their ideas upon matter thus differed from those now prevalent. We must be allowed to make our statement clearer in a short synopsis of the ancient and modern views of philosophy upon atoms, and thus prove that the atomic theory kills Materialism. (…)

But to do this requires a boundless love of truth and the surrender of that prestige — however false — of infallibility, which the men of Science have acquired among the ignorant and flippant, though cultured, masses of the profane. To blend the two sciences, the archaic and the modern, requires first of all the abandonment of the actual materialistic lines. It necessitates a kind of religious mysticism and even the study of old magic, which our Academicians will never take up. The necessity is easily explained. Just as in old alchemical works the real meaning of the substances and elements meant are concealed under the most ridiculous metaphors, so are the physical, psychic, and spiritual natures of the Elements (say of fire) concealed in the Vedas, and especially in the Puranas, under allegories comprehensible only to the Initiates. Had they no meaning, then indeed all those long legends and allegories … would be idiotic verbiage and no more. But it is not so.” (Helena P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1, pg. 507-521)

Theurgy θεουργία as generally taken in the ancient world and in modern usage was claimed to result in the communication or rather interaction between the Elements or Intelligences in the world of incorporeal being, with those initiated mortals whom by merit were fit for the process. The presence of the Intelligences that the initiated mortal sensed was actually the initial process of the union. These were not Gods, in the fashion and likeness of Roman imperators, as commonly known through art and exotericism (or mythology). Rather than a series of rituals, it was an actual psychological condition. “Ancient Theosophists claimed, and so do the modern, that the infinite cannot be known by the finite — i.e., sensed by the finite Self — but that the divine essence could be communicated to the higher Spiritual Self in a state of ecstasy. This condition ἕνωσις (henosis) can hardly be attained, like hypnotism, by ‘physical and chemical means‘” (Key to Theosophy).

Oracles were known to use chemicals through floor vents, but in the condition of the theurgist, this was not obtained through trance-states, drugs, nor feverish bodily sensations of the congregational charismatic-types.

Chemical enhancements make men none the wiser:

“The primeval mode of obtaining fire [gnosis] by friction has its scientific explanation in the Vedas, and is pregnant with meaning for him who reads between the lines.” (Helena P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 523)

“The fire or knowledge burns up all action on the plane of illusion,” says the commentary. “Therefore, those who have acquired it and are emancipated, are called ‘Fires.’ (ibid, pg. 87.)

It is popular to draw the analogy between drug effects and “spiritual states,” as, e.g., “trips” aiding in liberating the mind. “Getting high” is equated to being high in the cloudlands of the gods in our day, indicative of our ignorance of what was understood then to be “truly spiritual.” The external uses of enhancements, bio-nano and simulation technology are seen as the future, and an attempt to liberate ourselves into virtual realities, in an age, the fragmentation of the ego is already out of control. It demonstrates, that even scientists and priests are blind, and would rather rely on a subtler ‘tower of babel.’

In the psychology of the Egyptian and Greek mysteries, the god Thoth or Hermes (Mercury) was seen as the “Messenger of the Gods,” i.e., the mystical Voice, or the Spirit of Wisdom. It is equivalent to the rgyu or ju (the seed, essence or dhātu) in Buddhism, and the Christos in Valentinus’ philosophy. As in the Greek mystic process of henosis, that “Spirit of Wisdom” is and has always been associated with royal symbolism. It is the real nature of the mirage of the human-animal, or the reflection on earth, whom merely think themselves to be a mere animal dragging along a meat-bag. The occult theory cannot accept the science of physicalism, that the nous is merely a secretion of gray matter in the brain, and yet be also knowledgeable, that man has a higher nature, or reason, that sympathetically binds them to godly, or noumenal Forces of Nature. What were these noumenal Forces?

“The Occultists are often misunderstood because, for lack of better terms, they apply to the essence of Force under certain aspects the descriptive epithet of substance. Now the names for the varieties of “substance” on different planes of perception and being are legion. Eastern Occultism has a special appellation for each kind; but Science — like England, in the recollection of a witty Frenchman, blessed with thirty-six religions and only one fish-sauce —has but one name for all, namely, “Substance.”” (Helena P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 510)

What are “gods?” Are they are, as created by the sculpted images, flying nude like winged-bats in the Aither? They, in fact meant more than an incorporeal being. H.P. Blavatsky elucidates it in a way that has not been described before, detailing ideas, long before the subatomic particle discovery. In the passage below, Blavatsky even demonstrates, that the Theosophical view of transmigration is not like the common idea of transmigration, or reincarnation, adding the aspect of atomism to the theory.

What Occultists mean by Elements and Atoms H.P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine (Vol. 1, 1888, pp. 567-69)

“WHEN the Occultist speaks of “Elements,” and of human Beings who lived during those geological ages, the duration of which it is found as impossible to determine, according to the opinion of one of the best English geologists [*Plato uses the words “secretions” of turbulent Elements in Timaeus], as the nature of matter, it is because he knows what he is talking about. When he says “Man” and Elements, he neither means “man” in his present physiological and anthropological form, nor the elemental atoms, those hypothetical conceptions, the entitative abstractions of matter in its highly attenuated state, as existing at present in scientific minds; nor, again, the compound Elements of antiquity. In Occultism the word Element means “rudiment” in every case. When we say “Elementary Man,” we mean either the proemial, incipient sketch of man, in its unfinished and undeveloped condition, hence in that form which now lies latent in physical man during his life-time, and takes shape only occasionally and under certain conditions; or that form which for a time survives the material body, and which is better known as an “Elementary.” [*Valentinus’ Esoteric Treatise on the Doctrine of Gilgul]. With regard to “Element,” when the term is used metaphysically, it means, in distinction to the mortal, the incipient divine man; and, in its physical usage, inchoate matter in its first undifferentiated condition, or in the laya state [i.e., Zero-point], which is the eternal and the normal condition of substance, differentiating only periodically, and is during that differentiation in an abnormal state — in other words, a transitory illusion of the senses.

As to the “elemental atoms,” so called, the Occultists refer to them by that name with a meaning analogous to that which is given by the Hindu to Brahma when he calls him ANU, the “Atom.” Every elemental atom, in search of which more than one Chemist has followed the path indicated by the Alchemists, is, in their firm belief (when not knowledge), a SOUL; not necessarily a disembodied soul, but a jiva, as the Hindus call it, a centre of POTENTIAL VITALITY, with latent intelligence in it, and, in the case of compound Souls — an intelligent active EXISTENCE, from the highest to the lowest order, a form composed of more or less differentiations. It requires a metaphysician — and an Eastern metaphysician — to understand our meaning. All those atom-Souls are differentiations from the ONE, and in the same relation to it as the divine Soul — the Buddhi — to its informing and inseparable Spirit, or Atman.

Modern physics, while borrowing from the ancients their atomic theory, forgot one point, the most important of the doctrine; hence they got only the husks and will never be able to get at the kernel. They left behind, in the adoption of physical atoms, the suggestive fact that from Anaxagoras down to Epicurus, the Roman Lucretius, and finally even to Galileo, all those Philosophers believed more or less in ANIMATED atoms, not in invisible specks of so-called “brute” matter.

Rotatory motion was generated in their views, by larger (read, more divine and pure) atoms forcing downwards other atoms; the lighter ones being thrust simultaneously upward. The esoteric meaning of this is the ever cyclic curve downward and upward of differentiated elements through intercyclic phases of existence, until each reaches again its starting point or birthplace. The idea was metaphysical as well as physical; the hidden interpretation embracing “gods” or souls, in the shape of atoms, as the causes of all the effects produced on Earth by the secretions from the divine bodies.

No ancient philosopher, not even the Jewish Kabalists, ever dissociated Spirit from matter or vice versa. Everything originated in the ONE, and, proceeding from the one, must finally return to the One. “Light becomes heat, and consolidates into fiery particles; which, from being ignited, become cold, hard particles, round and smooth. And this is called Soul, imprisoned in its robe of matter;” Atoms and Souls having been synonymous in the language of the Initiates. The “whirling Souls,” Gilgoolem, a doctrine in which so many learned Jews have believed (See Mackenzies Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia), had no other meaning esoterically. The learned Jewish Initiates never meant by the “Promised land” Palestine alone, but the same Nirvana as the learned Buddhist and Brahmin do — the bosom of the ETERNAL ONE, symbolized by that of Abraham, and by Palestine as its substitute on Earth.*** The passage of the SOUL-ATOM “through the Seven Planetary Chambers” had the same metaphysical and also physical meaning. It had the latter when it was said to dissolve into Ether [See Isis Unveiled, Vol. I., p. 297.] Even Epicurus, the model Atheist and materialist, knew and believed so much in the ancient Wisdom, that he taught that the Soul (entirely distinct from immortal Spirit when the former is enshrined latent in it, as it is in every atomic speck), was composed of a fine, tender essence, formed from the smoothest, roundest, and finest atoms.

And this shows that the ancient Initiates, who were followed more or less closely by all profane antiquity, meant by the term “ATOM,” a Soul, a Genius or Angel, the first-born of the ever-concealed CAUSE of all causes; and in this sense their teachings become comprehensible. They claimed, as do their successors, the existence of Gods and Genii, angels or “demons,” not outside, or independent of, the Universal Plenum, but within it. Only this Plenum, during the life-cycles, is infinite. They admitted and taught a good deal of that which modern Science teaches now –namely, the existence of a primordial “World-stuff or Cosmic Substance,” from which worlds are formed, ever and eternally homogeneous, except during its periodic existence, when it differentiates its universal diffusion throughout infinite space; and the gradual formation of sidereal bodies from it. They taught the revolution of the Heavens, the Earth’s rotation, the Heliocentric System, and the Atomic Vortices — Atoms — in reality Souls and intelligences. But those “Atomists” were spiritual, most transcendental, and philosophical Pantheists. It is not they who would have ever conceived, or dreamt that monstrous contrasted progeny, the nightmare of our modern civilized Race; namely — inanimate material, self-guiding atoms, on the one hand, and an extra-Cosmic God on the other.” (H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1, 1888, pp. 567-69)

Post Updated June 5, 2018.

Footnote

The Jewish doctrine of the transmigration of souls and the ancient atomic theory —

*** “Surely no educated Jew ever believed the literal sense of this allegory — namely, that “the bodies of Jews deposited in foreign lands contain within them a principle of Soul which cannot rest, until by a process called the “whirling of the Soul” the immortal particle reaches once more the sacred Soil of the “Promised land.” The meaning is evident to an occultist. The process was supposed to be accomplished by a kind of metempsychosis, the psychic spark being conveyed through bird, beast, fish, and the most minute insect. (See Royal Masonic Cyclo. Mackenzie.) The Allegory relates to the atoms of the body, which have each to pass through every form before all reach the final state, which is the first starting point of the departure of every atom — its primitive laya [zero-point] State. But the primitive meaning of Gilgoolem, or “Revolution of Souls,” was the idea of the re-incarnating Souls or Egos. “All the Souls go into the gilgoolah [gilgulah],” into a cyclic or revolving process; i.e., they all proceed on the cyclic path of re-births. Some Kabalists interpret this doctrine to mean only a kind of purgatory for the souls of the wicked. But this is not so.”

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