Friday, November 08, 2013

If you like your afterlife plan, you can keep it!

So says no less a person -- well, spirit -- than Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. She has been gone from the Earth sphere since 1891, so she should know. Or not. She reports, you decide.

Blavatsky was a co-founder of the Theosophical Society, and undoubtedly one of its most effective advocates. The society has had the usual organizational upheavals and schisms, and never attracted a mass following, but its philosophical influence has been far out of proportion to its numbers.

Among its teachings was the doctrine of reincarnation. Before the Theosophical Society came onto the scene, the idea that people lead successive lives to gain experience and develop spiritually was virtually unknown in the modern Western world aside from a few scholars of Asian (called in those days "Oriental") religions. Since Blavatsky and her successors such as Annie Besant -- a multi-purpose reformer whose other interests included socialism and feminism -- delivered the message, reincarnation has entered mainstream thought, though not necessarily acceptance.

Surprise: from her new perch in the afterlife, Blavatsky has decided that reincarnation is tosh. How do we know? She's told us via mediumship.

On Nov. 1, 1922, Blavatsky dropped in on Dr. Carl Wickland's psychic rescue circle for patients plagued by obsessing earthbound spirits. I wrote about Dr. Wickland and his book Thirty Years Among the Dead in this post. Blavatsky, on the Other Side, was not bothering the living. But she wanted to talk about some of the things she'd learned after passing over, speaking via Mrs. Wickland, a trance medium.

Here is a partial transcript of Blavatsky's message, recorded in Dr. Wickland's book.
I studied Reincarnation, and I thought there was truth and justice in the theory that we come back and learn and have more experiences. I taught it and wanted to bring it out to the world and its peoples.

I felt that I remembered far back in my past. I felt I knew all about my past, but I was mistaken.

Memories of “past lives” are caused by spirits that bring such thoughts and represent the lives they lived. A spirit impresses you with the experiences of its life and these are implanted in your mind as your own. You then think you remember your past.

When you study, especially when you study Theosophy, you develop your mind and live in an atmosphere of mind. You remove yourself as much as possible from the physical. Naturally you become sensitive, and naturally you feel the spirits around you. They speak to you by impressions and their past will be like a panorama. You feel it, and you live over the past of spirits and you make the mistake of taking this for the memory of former incarnations.
I did not know this when I lived. I took it for granted that these memories were true, but when I came to the spirit side of life I learned differently.
She later returned to the subject.
When you have once reached the spirit world, where all are congenial, where all is life, where all is bliss, where there is no jealousy, no envy, where all is one grand harmony, do you think for one moment that you would want to leave that beautiful condition to come back to earth and be a little baby, restricted in mind and knowing nothing - nothing whatever?

Furthermore, you might get into a sickly, crippled body and be worse than you were before.

No, reincarnation is not true. I believed it, I taught it, and I was sure that I should come back and be somebody else. But I will not. I can do far more good now.
My impression is that Blavatsky (why is she continually referred to as "Madame" Blavatsky in Theosophical circles?), while in our world, had a strong intuitive grasp of certain profound truths, but was also too ready to believe and proclaim a lot of cant and nonsense. Supposing her spirit was speaking at Dr. Wickland's circle, good on her for exercising a woman's prerogative to change her mind.

If the tone of these comments sounds flippant, you may be wondering whether I take the subject seriously or if this is a jest. Well, if I had refused to treat serious matters with a touch (or more) of humor, half the postings on this blog would not have been written. Questions of what happens after we depart this life could hardly be more important in my view.

Belief in reincarnation is now almost universal among people practicing the various forms of yoga and disciplines derived, even at a wide remove, from the Vedanta tradition. Most Buddhists seem to believe in it as well, although it's incompatible with Buddhism's core notion that there is no continuing self or soul. And finally there are those who come under the "New Age" heading.

I've spent a lot of time around such people, and I suppose it has influenced me to lean toward incorporating reincarnation in my outlook. Even so ... I'd never deny that it's possible; but I'm not convinced.

Survival of consciousness in a post-mortem state seems nearly certain if you are willing to look at the evidence, as a whole, without prejudice. For reincarnation, the picture is cloudier.

There are two basic methods of studying the possibility of reincarnation: "past-life memories" of young children and hypnotic regression.

I greatly admire the work of the late Ian Stevenson and his colleagues studying children's alleged past-life recall in situ, talking to the children and other people involved, using means as scientific as possible under the circumstances. Some of the cases he writes about are intriguing and a few almost seem to clinch the argument. But they never quite rule out alternative explanations -- for instance, Blavatsky's suggestion that they are not remembering their own past lives, but lives of attaching spirits.

Hypnotic regression also produces some fascinating material, but is even more open to doubt. Although hypnosis is widely practiced in psychotherapy, including past-life regression therapy, we still don't understand what hypnosis is. We know plenty about some things it can do, but not how or why. What is in no doubt is that hypnotized subjects are extremely suggestible and imaginative. Their visions of living in other times and places are surely real experiences to them. But dreams and hallucinations are phenomenologically real, too.

Explanations of the need for reincarnation tend to be of the "school of life" variety -- we have to keep returning until we've learned all our lessons -- or based on the supposed Law of Karma, that we must reap the results of all we've ever done. Again, I can't dismiss these claims, but they are just theories (however many thousands of years they've been on the Ancient Wisdom pop chart), neither provable nor disprovable.

I can tell you this from extensive reading of the literature on reincarnation: no one's story or "memory" of a previous incarnation that it has been possible to investigate through historical records has been 100 percent factually correct. Some have been partly confirmed -- impressive in itself, granted -- but those same examples include statements that not only can't be substantiated, but are shown to be wrong. In hypnotic regressions, there is usually a curious inability to come up with specifics, such as the person's name in the earlier life, the year, who was the king or president at the time, what the town, city, or country was called, &c.

Personally I hope the spirit Blavatsky is right and we continue our growth toward Ultimate Reality without having to be wrapped in a physical body again and again. Maybe the best possibility is to be offered a choice, not a requirement -- if you want another go-around in Earth life, the train is leaving on track 9. If prefer your spirit arrangements, you can keep them.


Stogie said...

I must admit that I favor the concepts of karma and reincarnation. These seem so much fairer than the Christian one-shot theory where you are saved in Heaven or tortured in Hell. I even have a Kindle book, "Children Who Remember Past Lives." I haven't finished it.

Another explanation that you seem to overlook is that the entity claiming to be Blavatsky is not Blavatsky. How did Dr. Wickland feel about reincarnation?

Rick Darby said...


The spirit claiming to be Blavatsky says, in part of the transcript I didn't quote, that in her Earth life she was moved by the same considerations as you bring up to believe that reincarnation was a way of "balancing accounts" -- a belief still prevalent among many. To any thinking person, a single life determining a soul's fate for all eternity is a repellent notion.

However, reincarnation or a "one-shot theory" are not the only possibilities. Spiritualism (generally reincarnation-skpetical), Spiritism (reincarnation-accepting), and most mediums and psychics say that souls continue to learn and grow spiritually in the non-physical realms -- so that, in principle, there is no need to return to an embodied state.

It almost goes without saying that any spirit claiming to be so-and-so might not be, or might just be a figure from the medium's unconscious. Such questions have been debated since the beginning of scientific studies of mediumship.

Perhaps I should have made it more obvious that one should not necessarily take "Blavatsky's" communication at face value. But it would be tedious to preface every mention with "alleged" or similar disclaimers. I did write, "Supposing her spirit was speaking at Dr. Wickland's circle ... ," which I think indicated some question about the nature of the phenomenon.

Dr. Wickland does not profess a belief or disbelief of his own in reincarnation. At least not in Thirty Years .... He wrote a second book published in 1934, The Gateway of Understanding, which I haven't read; pdf is at . I see there's a chapter in Gateway titled "Reincarnation and Theosophy."

Stogie said...

Hmm, I had not considered that the soul might continue its growth without return to a physical body. That makes non-reincarnation more palatable to my finite, human perspective. On the other hand, why have any carnation to begin with, if it is unnecessary for the growth of the soul?

Of course, human logic (as I am using here) is a finite tool that cannot accurately measure the infinite and such topics may be beyond human understanding. Still, I would like to make as much sense of it as I can, though my understanding will always be highly limited.

Stogie said...

Off topic: I recently saw a presentation on the Smithsonian Channel about the case of Patience Worth. Are you familiar with it? This might make a fascinating blog post.

Anonymous said...


Hi, this is a good opportunity to share with you a 'must know' historical document from 1894 - republished in 1993 - now containing an essential and highly informative contemporary introductory essay relating to Blavatsky and esotericism in the 19th century.

The introduction as a whole is a must but Blavatsky is treated especially starting in it at page 28 of the intro. She is then covered in Harrison's Lecture 1.

Note: Target PDF is 46 MB in size (high quality scan).

The Transcendental Universe by C.G. Harrison

I have three copies in paperback and I'd be happy to loan one to you.


The link above goes to:

Rick Darby said...


I haven't studied the Patience Worth phenomenon in depth, but am familiar with the general outlines. For those who have not heard of Patience Worth, she was allegedly a woman of the 17th century who transmitted books and poetry through Pearl Curran in the early 20th century, first via a Ouija board and later via automatic writing.

I've read some of her poetry, which clearly came from a source with literary talent. But it doesn't bear much resemblance to the style I associate with the 17th century -- Donne, Milton, Marvell, et al. The tone, despite some archaisms in the language, seems to me more late Victorian. What to make of it? Beats me.


I was not aware of The Transcendental Universe. Thanks for calling it to my attention. I opened the PDF with no trouble and saved it.

Anonymous said...


Hi, I found this the same day as your last response. My point of view is that this take is largely true. It is basically in agreement with the Harrison view.

Amazon gives 2000 as publication year.



From "The Zealator: The Secret Journals of Mark Hedsel
by Ovason, David

The following excerpt takes place in the presence of a teacher who gives a lengthy discourse on the moon:

‘Now we must touch upon the connection between the Moon and clairvoyancy. We must do this because one of our members has — wisely or unwisely — become involved with mediumistic groups.’

‘It is important that we set out very clearly the dangers inherent in opening the soul to such activities. It is not for me to forbid such activity. I have no power to forbid, and would relish no such power. Much as I would wish to protect you, I cannot. The best I can do is make the dangers clear to you. After that, your beliefs and your conduct remain your own.’

He look around at our faces, as though to indicate that he had arrived at the most important point of the evening.

‘And so now we must look at an esoteric truth which touches on the very edge of what is permissible. What I have to say will be greatly disturbing for many people of modern times. It will disturb, because it is generally taken for granted that clairvoyancy, mediumship and spiritualistic activity are somehow linked with Spiritual development, and consequently of benefit to mankind.

Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. A vast amount of our modern so-called Spiritualist literature pertains to channelling and clairvoyancy which is far from beneficial for the development of mankind.

Indeed, not to mince words, I should tell you that it is distinctly harmful.

‘I must now make a statement which will introduce you to a concept which was, until comparatively recently, one of the deepest secrets of the esoteric Schools: In some ways, the Moon is the greatest problem of esoteric lore. The Moon is not at all what it appears to be.

‘At the end of the last century an astounding revelation was made, as a result of dissent among members of secret Schools. Information, hitherto guarded jealously by the most enclosed of the inner Orders, was made public. The secrets disclosed pertained to a far deeper level of knowledge than has hitherto been made exoteric by the Schools — even in this enlightened age.’

His trace of cynicism seemed to go by unnoticed.

‘Our purpose here is not to document how so deep an esoteric idea was made public — or even to assess whether it was wise for this idea to be brought out into the open. All this has been dealt with in the literature — and if any of you wish to follow this up, I will give you a few titles later.

(Remainder of text is located in next comment.)

Anonymous said...

Part 2 of excerpt from -

The Zelator: The Secret Journals of Mark Hedsel
by David Ovason

(spelling of title word 'Zelator' is corrected above)


‘In a nutshell, what was made public during this conflict in the Schools was the truth that our Moon is a sort of counterweight to another sphere, which remains invisible to ordinary vision. This counterweighted sphere is called in esoteric circles the Eighth Sphere.

‘We must be careful with these words, for, in spite of what I have just said, this region is not itself a sphere, nor is it a moon. Even to locate it behind the physical Moon is not correct, for in the Spiritual realm spaces and distances are different. The truth is that this Eighth Sphere does not pertain to anything we are familiar with on the physical plane, yet we must use words from our own vocabularies whenever we wish to denote its existence.

'Were we to use a word which fits most appropriately this Sphere, then we should really call it a vacuum. Certainly, vacuum is a more appropriate term than sphere, for the Eighth Sphere sucks things into its own shadowy existence.

‘This Sphere is lower in the scale of being than the Seventh Sphere (which is the Earth). It acts as a sort of demonic conduit to suck into its maws certain degenerate Spiritual forms on the Earth. It is a shadow Sphere, controlled by shadow beings. However, the fact that they are shadow beings should not lead us to demote or underestimate their capabilities and intelligence. In many respects they are more intelligent than Man, for they are not limited by the power of love, as is Mankind.

‘The operation of this Eighth Sphere is complex. Its denizens — those shadowy beings for whom it is home — wish to people their Sphere with humanity, or (more accurately) with human souls. Towards this end, it has erected what we might call terminals on the Earth: these terminals are soul-conduits, which will suck into the lower Sphere a certain form of materialized Spiritual energy that is engendered on the Earth plane.

'The most usual circumstances where this materialization or engendering takes place is in seances, and in other localities wherein human beings attempt to meddle — against the cosmic law — with the lower Etheric planes.’

Philip was having difficulties with this curious account of the lunar powers, and asked: ‘Are you saying that Spiritualist activity is itself victimized by the Eighth Sphere?’

‘Yes, Philip. Certain Spiritualist activity is coloured by the erroneous belief that the realm of the dead is accessible to the living. In truth, mediumistic activity cannot penetrate through into the true realm of the dead: it is therefore dealing only with shadows. In so doing, it is creating fodder for the nourishment of the Eighth Sphere. This sucking of certain forms of human soul-matter into the Eighth Sphere is not, by any means, intended for the benefit of humanity.

'The aim of the denizens of this world is to enhance and populate a world which may truly be described as the realm of the damned. The efforts of these denizens, or demons, is contrary to the evolutionary development which has been planned for the world. In truth, the human being was not designed to become a shadow being, captive in a demonic sphere: it was designed to become a god.

‘It is less than one hundred years since this knowledge of the Eighth Sphere was made public. At first there was an outcry at this breach in initiate knowledge, but now we can see that it has proved something of a blessing that the demonic threat has been brought out into the open. In some ways, it is easier to deal with a visible enemy.

'Those who dabble in the supposed communications with the dead, and with that spirit-land which they fondly imagine lies beyond the veil, have not gone unwarned.'

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