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Chatterji and Holloway on the true implications of Occultism

Protestants in the 20th century, particularly the seventies argued, that the influence of Yogism, Indian philosophy and the “New Age” movement was dangerous and breeding a narcissistic man-centered religiosity. Surprisingly, to those that believe that the Theosophical Movement influenced the New Age zeitgeist, this is not entirely true.

The Theosophical Movement as it was to be, stands in contrast to the zeitgeist. One of the key figures in the history of the Theos. Soc. was co-founder William Q. Judge, who believed, “It may be possible to usher in a new era of western occultism devoid of folly. We should all be ready for that, if it be possible” (Letters That Have Helped Me, pg. 122).

Judge predicted what he termed the “Hindu Yogi craze” before the 20th century in New York, October 11th, 1892, as the folly he had described, and an obstruction to the real work of Theosophy. He is in this context describing the many opportunists clamoring for influence:

“…This is the era of Western Occultism. We are now to stand shoulder to shoulder in the U.S. to present it and enlarge it in view of coming cussedness — attacks which will be in the line of trying to impose solely Eastern disciples on us. The Masters are not Eastern nor Western, but universal.” (William Quan Judge, Letters That Have Helped Me, pg. 109.)

While it has appeared thus far, that “esotericists are the losers of history,” according to Holloway and Chatterji, the religions would not be able to prevent a serious, concerted effort on their part in propagating occult philosophy. It was suggested, that it would be cruel to destroy at once the cherished beliefs, that have developed. Great care was necessary in guiding the impulse of the Theosophical Movement, advising to avoid the mistakes of the past and correct the theology that developed around certain ideas.

William Q. Judge stated at the Parliament of Religions in 1893, that “The time will come when religion will also be a science. Today it is not.” The true implications of Occult Philosophy from the standpoint of Theosophists is not merely providing special, beautiful re-interpretations of scripture, understood typically in another common, orthodox, or plainer sense. Religion cannot expect to ever truly advance while on the outside treating the history and nature of this study (Alchemy, Occultism, etc) with superstition, even blinding and perpetually discouraging people from prying into it as it should be. These strong words mostly on the origins of in their words the “priesthoods and exoteric religions” come from a book titled “Man: Fragments of a Forgotten History,” which basically advances the claims about human origins and evolution argued by H.P. Blavatsky in her Anthropogenesis. Despite this, there are intriguing opinions about the state and future of religion in it, that is very blunt. It is co-authored by Mohini Chatterji and Laura C. Holloway under the identity of “Lay Chela” (a Sanskrit term that was frequent in the Theos. Soc. to describe an aspiring disciple of the Masters though living in the world).

The true implications of Occult Philosophy from the standpoint of Theosophists

“For occult philosophy is no shadowy system of speculation like any of the hundred philosophies with which the minds of men have been overwhelmed; it is the positive Truth, and by the time enough of it is let out, it will be seen to be so by thousands of the greatest men who may then be living in the world. What will be the consequence? The first effect on the minds of all who come to understand it, is terribly iconoclastic. It drives out before it everything else in the shape of religious belief. It leaves no room for any conceptions belonging even to the groundwork or foundation of ordinary religious faith. And what becomes then of all rules of right and wrong, of all sanctions for morality? Most assuredly there are rules of right and wrong thrilling through every fibre of occult philosophy really higher than any which commonplace theologies can teach; far more cogent sanctions for morality than can be derived at second-hand from the distorted doctrines of exoteric religions; but a complete transfer of the sanction will be a process involving the greatest possible danger for mankind at the time. Bigots of all denominations will laugh at the idea of such a transfer being seriously considered. The orthodox Christian — confident in the thousand of churches overshadowing all western lands, of the enormous force engaged in the maintenance and propagation of the faith, with the Pope and the Protestant hierarchy in alliance for this broad purpose, with the countless clergy of all sects, and the fiery Salvation Army bringing up the rear — will think that the earth itself is more likely to crumble into ruin than the irresistible authority of Religion to be driven back. (…)

The most absurd religions die hard; but when the intellectual classes definitively reject them, they die, with throes of terrible agony, may be, and, perhaps, like Samson in the Temple, but they cannot permanently outlive a conviction that they are false in the leading minds of the age. Just what has been said of Christianity may be said of Mahomedanism and Brahmanism. Little or no risk is run while occult literature aims merely at putting a reasonable construction on perverted tenets — in showing people that truth may lurk behind even the strangest theologic fictions. And the lover of orthodoxy, in either of the cases instanced, may welcome the explanation with complacency. For him also, as for the Christian, the faith which he professes — sanctioned by what looks like a considerable antiquity to the very limited vision of uninitiated historians, and supported by the attachment of millions grown old in its service and careful to educate their children in the convictions that have served their turn — is founded on a rock which has its base in the foundations of the world. Fragmentary teachings of occult philosophy seem at first to be no more than annotations on the canonical doctrine. They may even embellish it with graceful interpretations of its symbolism, parts of which may have seemed to require apology, when ignorantly taken at the foot of the letter. But this is merely the beginning of the attack. If occult philosophy gets before the world with anything resembling completeness, it will so command the assent of earnest students that for them nothing else of that nature will remain standing. And the earnest students in such eases must multiply. They are multiplying now even, merely on the strength of the little that has been revealed. True, as yet — for some time to come — the study will be, as it were, the whim of a few; but “those who know,” know among other things that, give it fair-play, and it must become the subject of enthusiasm with all advanced thinkers. And what is to happen when the world is divided into two camps — the whole forces of intellectuality and culture on the one side, those of ignorance and superstitious fanaticism on the other? (…)

There is no question, be it understood, as to the relative merits of the moral sanctions that are afforded by occult philosophy and those which are distilled from the worn-out materials of existing creeds. If the world could conceivably be shunted at one coup from the one code of morals to the other, the world would be greatly the better for the change. But the change cannot be made all at once, and the transition is most dangerous. On the other hand, it is no less dangerous to take no steps in the direction of that transition. For though existing religions may be a great power — the Pope ruling still over millions of consciences if not over towns and States, the name of the Prophet being still a word to conjure with in war, the forces of Brāhmanical custom holding countless millions in willing subjection — in spite of all this, the old religions are sapped and past their prime. They are in process of decay, for they are losing their hold on the educated minority; it is still the case that in all countries the camps of orthodoxy include large numbers of men distinguished by intellect and culture, but one by one their numbers are diminishing. Five-and-twenty years only, in Europe, have made a prodigious change. Books are written now that pass almost as matters of course which would have been impossible no further back than that. No further back, books thrilled society with surprise and excitement, which the intellectual world would now ignore as embodying the feeblest commonplaces. The old creeds, in fact, are slowly losing their hold upon mankind — more slowly in the more deliberately moving East than Europe, but even here by degrees also — and a time will come, whether occult philosophy is given out to take their place or not, when they will no longer afford even such faulty sanctions for moral conduct and right as they have supplied in times gone by. Therefore it is plain that something must be given out to take their place, and hence the determinations of which this movement in which we are engaged is one of the undulations — these very words some of the foremost froth upon the advancing wave.” (also in Five Years of Theosophy: Mystical, Philosophical, Theosophical, Historical, and Scientific Essays selected from “The Theosophist.” London: Reeves & Turner, 1885; see pages. 475-78.)

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