P.11 : Dallas's "LAWS."
Mar 11, 2002 09:02 AM
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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