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P.11 : Dallas's "LAWS."

Mar 11, 2002 09:02 AM
by bri_mue


Jerry: "I have been saying for a long time that Theosophy, like 
religion, is based on faith. No one really "knows" anything.
Past life recollection is a part of modern transpersonal psychology, 
but their aim is not to recall past lives or to prove reincarnation 
but simply to help mentally unstable clients".


Bri.: My conclusion so far is that each generation of Esoteric 
spokespersons since the days of Puysegur Blavatsky et all, has 
attempted to incorpo­rate the scientific and esoteric advances of 
their epoch into a religious blicolage. Which doen't mean Blavatsky 
wasn't a great writer and esotericist.
During the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the educated elite 
in the Christian West seems to have had a fair knowledge of existence 
and particulars of the faiths of nearby lands. However, with few 
exceptions,this was combined with a very limited tolerance towards 
these religions.

Thus, the medieval text Confutatio alcorani dis­missed the prophet
Muhammad as merely an epileptic tribal chief' As for cultures that 
were more distant in time and space, the level of ignorance seems to 
have been considerably higher. Hermeticist interest in an imagined 
Egypt was matched by a profound ignorance of actual Egyptian culture. 
The map of the world expanded with the rise of the modern age. Jesuit 
missionaries, travelers, explorers, merchants and diplomats were 
among the increasing number of writ­ers to convey something of the 
richness and diversity of the world's cultures and faiths. A greater 
familiarity gave rise to a mild rela­tivism. The contrast between the 
two views of the Other can be seen by juxtaposing a sixteenth century 
chronicler with a precursor of the Enlightenment.

One of the earliest texts to descn*be a native American people is 
jean de Ury's Ricit dun voyage en la terre du Brasil, published in 
1578.' De Ury visited large and well-organized villages of five to 
six hun­dred inhabitants, and was struck by how well life in these 
villages and the relations between their inhabitants worked in the 
absence of a judiciary system. There can be little doubt that his 
chronicle contributed to the appreciation of "savages" so evident in 
Montaigne's essay On Cannibals.

However, de Ury's tolerance abruptly ended when he described the 
faith of the Tupinamba Indians. The six­teenth chapter of his book is 
the only one that has a directly dep­recating content. The poor 
natives live in spiritual darkness; they venerate no gods, have no 
places of worship, no scripture or sacred days in their calendar. 
They do not pray, nor do they have any the­ones regarding the origins 
of the world.

When a spokesperson uses a discursive strategy rather than a more 
formal demonstration to sup­port the claim that his or her 
interpretations should be a valid grid through which others could or 
should interpret reality, this is an ide­ological maneuver. Modern 
movement texts, e.g. Caroline Myss' two books on the chakra system, 
are ambivalent on this point, since the author encourages readers 
more or less in passing to accept only what feels right. Yet Myss 
devotes several hundred pages to con­structing a system of 
correspondences that is backed by only rhetor­ical evidence; in
this case, whatever "feels right" can hardly be subject to independent
confirmation, and must therefore be accepted or rejected at face 
value.


By the end of the eighteenth century, Christianity was not only
chal­lenged by other faiths. Arguably the most serious competitor were 
the materialistic and more or less implicitly~sccular natural sci­
ences. A God who actively manifested his power and ma esty in the 
workings of the world and in the history of mankind was gradually 
replaced by the far more distant creator of the deists. Reliance on 
scripture, miracles or revelation was criticized by Enlightenment.

By the mid-1770s, Franz Mesmer had created a form of alter­native
medicine. According to his theories, all diseases had a common cause: 
an imbalance in the magnetic fluid that flowed through the patient's 
body.
Mesmer created a number of healing rituals aimed at restoring the 
flow of animal magnetism. Mesmer soon began to attract pupils, some 
of whom would experiment with his methods and modify them. In 1784, 
one of Mesmer's disciples, Armand Marie Jacques de Chastenet, the 
marquis de Puysegur, created the perhaps most significant innovation 
in the early history of mesmerism. One of Puysegur's servants, Victor 
Race, had been afflicted with a res­piratory ailment accompanied by 
fever, and the marquis attempted to cure him by mesmeric means. 
However, Race did not experience any of the common symptoms of 
crisis, but merely appeared to fall asleep.
Nevertheless, Puys6gur noted that Race seemed to hear every­thing that 
was said and slavishly followed every command. After the treatment, 
Race claimed not to remember anything that had hap­pened during the 
session. Puysegur named the new mesmeric symp­tom magnetic steep or 
somnambulism.

The radical innovation consisted in the focus of Puysegur's and his
followers' investigations. Whereas Mesmer was entirely committed to 
his view of mesmerism as a method of curing patients, the reformed 
mesmensts under Puys6gur paid attention to the exotic symptoms 
manifested by many of their clients when subjected to magnetic sleep: 
they appeared to read thoughts, gave proof of X-ray vision, heard 
voices or foretold the future.
Puysegur and his colleagues lived in a pre-psychological age. Many of 
them appear to have understood the experiences of their mesmerized 
patients as an empirically valid path to access a religious (or, to 
borrow an anachronism, paranormal) world. The mesmerists seemed to 
gather experimental evidence in support of what had previously been 
religious or folk beliefs. By being empiricists of sorts and 
thus "scientific", the spokespersons for various versions of the 
mesmerist worldview created a syncretism between faith and 
rationality.


As magnetism became an everyday phenomenon, electricity partially 
replaced it as a powerful metaphor for vital forces. Then electricity 
also lost its nimbus, and atomic theory, relativity theory and quan­
tum physics became new sources of inspiration. Since then, scien­tism 
has come to permeate many aspects of the Esoteric movement texts that 
form part of the present corpus. Paratextual markers, such as the 
author's academic titles and the scholarly credentials of those who 
endorse the books, give these texts legitimacy. The structure of 
certain texts is modeled on that of scientific treatises. The vocabu­
lary is infused with terms taken (i.e. disembedded) from their 
origins within the scientific community. Movement texts may claim 
scientific status for an array of doctrinal elements
ranging from auras and astrology to various forms of healing. 
Religious activities are expressed by means of a rationalistic 
vocabulary that makes these activities acceptable to a largely 
secularized audience. What, besides rhetorical legitimacy, does one 
accomplish by incor­porating contemporary science? On the one hand, it 
becomes pos­sible to attempt a seamless synthesis a la Fritjof Capra 
or Gary Zukav.

On the other hand, it also becomes feasible to attempt to employ 
single elements of scientific theories or terminology as strategies 
to legitimize concepts that an earlier age might have seen as 
typically religious. In the case study, the type of events that may 
have been interpreted as mira­cles by an earlier age are explained as 
belonging to the domain of science-but of a science that is vastly 
more encompassing than the purportedly narrow and materialistic 
science practiced in research laboratories around the world.
Bri.






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